Satanus Victor: Atonement As Ransom to Satan

Atonement Nails

Ransom to Satan theory views Christ’s atoning work as a payment to Satan to ransom those whom God the Father gave Christ. Wayne Grudem clarified this view as “the ransom Christ paid to redeem us was paid to Satan, in whose kingdom all people were by virtue of sin.”(Grudem 1994: 581)

Supplementing Grudem, R. C. Sproul expounded that “Satan was the kidnapper who had snatched us away from our Father’s house, and Christ came and paid a ransom to the Devil to set us free.”(Sproul 2007: 54)

A brilliant Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) was the main champion of the ransom to Satan theory. He contended that, “it was the devil who held us, to whom we had been sold by our sins. He demanded therefore as our price, the blood of Jesus.” (Origen 1985: 142) He articulated,

“To whom did he [Christ Jesus] give his life a ransom for many? Assuredly not to God; could it then be to the evil one? For he was holding us fast until the ransom should be given him, even the life of Jesus; being deceived with the idea that he could have dominion over it, and not seeing that he could not bear the torture in retaining it.”(ibid)

Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335- ca. 395) added his own twist, as he viewed God deceiving Satan when Christ’s deity hide under Christ’s flesh and offered himself as a ransom and as a result, Satan lost both his victims and Christ. He argued,

“in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him[Satan] who required it, the Deity[of Christ] was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active.(Gregory 1893: 494)

Why did many early Church fathers fell for this theory, which gives the Satan much more power than he actually have? How could they accept a view that finds no support in the Scripture, even though the New Testament does indeed speaks of man fallen into the bondage of sin?  It could be “because Satan is the enemy of God and the tempter, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Satan held us in bondage and demanded a ransom from God.”(Sproul 2007: 55) but we cannot know for sure why.

 “If Christ paid a ransom to Satan to deliver us from Satan’s clutches, who is the victor?”(ibid 57) asked Sproul, as he questioned the validity of this view. If random was paid to the Satan, then Jesus is not Christus Victor, but Satan, hence Satanus Victor.

Grudem contended that those who held ransom to Satan theory “falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required that a payment be made for sin and thus completely neglects the demands of God’s justice with respect to sin.”(Grudem 1994: 581) He point out that the idea of sinners owing anything to Satan is nowhere to be found in the Old or New Testament. It is God, not Satan, who requires of us a payment for our sins.

Question: Are there modern theologians supporting ransom to Satan theory today?

Bibliography:

Gregory of Nyssa. (1893). The Great Catechism W. Moore, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume V: Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, etc. (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Sproul, R. C. (2007). The Truth of the Cross (53). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Origen (1985), Commentary on Matthew 16:8, cited in H. D. McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of Christ in Faith, Revelation, and History. Grand Rapids: Baker.

About Prayson Daniel

Prayson Daniel is a Tanzanian, married to Lea and a father to Eloise. Reformed theology, philosophy of religion, apologetics and church history are areas he enjoy reading, pondering and sharing with a motto "when love comes first, disagreement follows at its right and proper place".

27 comments

  1. I can hardly make myself believe that anyone who loves God could ever believe such a thing. It is God’s justice that demands retribution, not Satan’s deception. So many are being taught to fear Satan, to fear “the Antichrist,” and to fear tribulation. Satan is impotent as far as the redeemed are concerned, “the Antichrist” has always been in the world and only serves God’s sovereign purpose, and persecution purifies the Church and spreads the gospel farther rather than defeating it. We need to reintroduce the fear of God and His justice into our evangelism.

  2. I thought Christus Victor means more than what you have described. I seem to remember that at first, Satan thought he had the victory as he received a ransom in the atonement of Christ in the exchange of the sinners, but when resurrection happened, Satan realised he was badly mistaken and with that he was left with nothing, and thus, Christus Victor. Would love to know if any modern theologian pick this up.

    • Your correct, there is much more in Christus Victor that I have described. The point I was making is that if Satan received a ransom, then he is Satanus Victor. The problem is that the ransom, in Old Testament, as it is in New Testament, was offered to God, not Satan, for the forgiveness of sin.

      This theory cannot be defended Biblically, thus even though some pastor or untrained Christians do hold it, it seems that the moment you asked them to show you from Scripture, their case fails.

  3. Daniel, I am Jewish…
    Yes?

  4. Daniel, according to “be ye perfect as your H F is …”, I should expect and accept my son’s literal death as a voluntary attonement for my neigbour’s sin(a) against me? You know, “no greater love…”

    • Depends on the context Rom. I think we ought understanding atonement in it’s proper Jewish context so that we do not read our Western mentality into ancient Judaic mentality.

  5. I’m actually reading through the book that gave its name to this theory of the atonement right now. It seems to me that you’re operating off of an incomplete picture. It’s not saying that Satan does necessarily have a right over mankind, but that mankind in his rebellion deserves to be subjected to sin and to death and to the devil. It’s only in that sense that Christus Victor treats Satan as having any right to man–because of our sins. And even then Christ’s atoning act overthrew Satan, who might justly have ruled over men, but was never just in his defiance of God. Christus Victor in no way implies Satanus Victor. Which is not to say it’s the best way of understanding the atonement–I’d love to read a solid, in-depth critique of it–but I just don’t this criticism, as it stands, works.

  6. The reason I like your posts is because you make bold statements like the one in your title! You even had it going there in your first two paragraphs with reformed author quotes… :)

  7. If sin is the violation of the character and very being of the Godhead, then the ransom price of redemption must be paid to the One violated.

    If sin the violation of the character and very being of Satan, then the ransom price of redemption must be paid to him.

    The answer ultimately lies in basic nature of sin. While the Scripture is clear that the first proposition is accurate, there are many people sitting in churches today being taught that Satan received the ransom.

  8. I didn’t know this absurd theory even existed! I have never listen about it in any sermon. I guess it depends to what kind of church one attends. Of course is completely against the Scriptures and common sense. Thanks for sharing. God bless you!

    • It was among the early understandings of atonement. There are many theories offered throughout Church history. One of the reason I love reading Church history is , for most, if not all, of modern theology can be trace back to early Christians. The best thing is that you can also trace both the problem and answers as theologians wrestled to understand the correct doctrines.

      Thanks for reading and commenting

  9. It has sometimes crossed my mind that the devil could be god- why had he to kill an innocent man if it was just easy for him to kill this satan guy once and for all! Why has god to have shedding of blood as his mode of operation?

    • Who had to kill an innocent man?

      • If you send an innocent man to die, aren’t you complicit in his death?

        • It depends on the context. If the person view that his death would save many and that he himself lay down his own life then I will answer yes and no.

          • then we need to look at the evidence about the case in point. I will have to get you biblical quotations that show Jesus did what he was sent to do, not what he chose to do in this case therefore your assertion is moot!

          • I am looking forward for that evidence since John recorded Jesus of Nazareth claiming that: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”(John 10:18 ESV)

          • You say it yourself. This charge I received from my father. How is this a question of choice?

      • The charge of laying his life down, and take it up again. I hope you are not taken things out of context as it is recorded that He claimed that “No one takes it from me[Jesus], but I lay it down of my own accord.”

    • 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

      For the purposes of this argument we will assume this dude existed. Now lets look at it in context. Why does the father love him, because he lays down his life to take it again. where is the sacrifice here? He says he has authority to lay it but continues to say that charge he has received from the father, you can want to look at it whichever way you want but it is evident here, he is doing as he is told, not deviating.

      • Yes He is. But looking at the context, we should not cherry-pick. The Father loves the Son because Jesus lay down his life because he himself choose it. No one took it from him.

  10. You will find some teachers in the hyper-faith movement who still support this view. Other than that I am not sure who else does. In any case, I don’t. The offended party in sin is God, not the devil. What needs to be appeased is God’s wrath against sin.

    • R. C. Sproul work, I used above, expounded in detailed the position you are holding Ed. I think that is indeed the correct understand of atonement. Thank you for your input Ed.

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