Saving Easter – part three

Saving_EasterDidn’t Jesus pay a ransom for our salvation? This is a question I get asked whenever I talk about my perspective on the atonement.

This is part three in a series. Here is part one and part two. We’re taking a fresh look at the atonement and deconstructing some deeply held assumptions we’ve had in order to reconcile in our own minds some of the conflicts we’ve created with the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). I will add that these conflicts are in our minds whether we’ve ever understood what PSA is or not. They are deeply embedded in our religious cultural paradigm and, in my view, do great damage to our understanding of our heavenly Father.

Now we will begin looking at some Bible passages that seems to argue for PSA, or the earlier Satisfaction model. Today, we will consider the word “ransom.”

We find the Greek word for ransom, λύτρον (lytron), in two places (Matt.20:28; Mark 10:45); its close cousin, ἀντίλυτρον (antilytron) in one place (1 Tim.2:6). Here’s Mark 10:45 (bold-type added):

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Any modern English Bible dictionary or lexicon will define ransom as a “price paid for release” (remember the interpretative “glasses” from part two). In our world, when we hear the word, ransom, we normally think of paying kidnappers to release hostages.

Case closed, right? Well…not so fast. Let’s look at some history and then see how Jesus’ audience might’ve understood the word.

The earliest atonement view in church history was the Ransom theory. It was virtually the only view for the first thousand years. But there were three theories within this view.

For instance, of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great (330-379 AD) said the ransom was paid to death. His kid brother, Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD) said the ransom was paid to Satan. Their good buddy, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 AD) said it’s not a ransom paid to anyone.

I’m going with the ancient bud, Greg from Nazianzus. 🙂

But notice that none of them ever thought for a moment that the ransom was paid to God. It wasn’t until much later when the legal-lensed PSA model that we’re all familiar with directed it Godward. Christ yielding himself up in order to ransom mankind from the wrath of God. This was the position of the Reformers in the 16th century, although this innovation started with Anselm (1033-1109 AD) and His Satisfaction theory.

I have a question for you to ponder about our definition of ransom. If it must mean a payment made for release, who is our kidnapper? Who’s the one holding the captives?

If Satan is the kidnapper, which we could make the case from various Scripture passages, we’re saying that God is making Himself beholden to His creation–in this case, a reprobate criminal. Basically, God is a de facto hostage to Satan’s demands.

If death is the kidnapper, then God is beholden to a condition, which is a bit bizarre. And if we’re saying that Hades and Death is a spirit of some sort (because they get thrown in the Lake of Fire), then the same thing applies as with Satan.

If we’re saying the kidnapper is God, which would be analogous to the PSA position, then God has come to release the hostages from…God? Is He now not only the cosmic child abuser but the cosmic ransom-kidnapper as well? My head’s starting to hurt.

None of these options work for me, and they don’t really work for most thinking people you’re trying to convince when you say absurd things like this.

Again, I’m really liking Gregory of Nazianzus…

But Greg and I still have a problem. How can ransom not be a payment? Let’s put aside our dictionaries and commentaries for a moment and let the Bible define itself.

The first thing you need to know is that the “Bible” the apostles used was not the King James Version. They usually quoted from the Septuagint (LXX). It was put together for the Greek-speaking Jews in the third century BC. This is about a thousand years earlier than the Hebrew Masoretic text which is the Old Testament source for the KJV and other Protestant translations.

How might the apostles and first century Christians understand Jesus’ use of the word “ransom” in Mark 10:45? To let the Bible interpret the Bible, we need to use the LXX to find lytron. Since this word can have more than one meaning, we need to find it in the context of an Old Testament type of what Jesus was talking about.

A little digging will bring us to Exodus 6:6. First, let’s see a version we’re more familiar with (New King James Version). I will put the key word in bold-type.

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord;
I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
I will rescue you from their bondage,
and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.”

Next, let’s see look at an English translation of Exodus 6:6 from the LXX (L.C.L. Brenton):

“Go, speak to the children of Israel, saying, I [am] the Lord;
and I will lead you forth from the tyranny of the Egyptians,
and I will deliver you from bondage,
and I will ransom  you with a high arm, and great judgment.”

The Greek word for “ransom” here is lytron, which is the same as in Mark 10:45.

My question is this. Did God have to pay Pharaoh to deliver His people out of slavery in Egypt? Actually, the Egyptians gave the Israelites all kinds of silver and gold so they would get out of town!

Again, this passage is an Old Testament type of our redemption. With this in view, the Bible soteriologically interprets ransom as a rescue or deliverance with no payment whatsoever in view.

Taking the idea of ransom being a rescue without payment, let’s take a fresh look at Mark 10:45. Perhaps we will begin to see the way the apostles would’ve understood Jesus here CAPS added):

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life a RESCUE for many.”

Beloved, I go back to the point I made in part one. God doesn’t need to be paid to forgive. And He’s not beholden to anyone either. No, it was a Holy Trinity rescue mission!

The Father sent Jesus in the power of the Spirit, not to satiate His wrath but because of LOVE (John 3:16-17). Jesus gave Himself sacrificially for us, not to pay God but because of LOVE.

Jesus isn’t some amiable Dr. Jekyll and His Father an angry Mr. Hyde, nor is our God some pagan deity who must be appeased or in the fire you go! He’s not a mad, mad Dad; He’s a GOOD, GOOD Father!

Jesus came to rescue us, make us just like Him, and bring us with Him into His Father’s embrace. Amen.

Next time we’ll look at whose full fury of wrath Jesus actually did take.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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5 Responses to Saving Easter – part three

  1. Kathleen says:

    Mel,
    This is such rich delicious food. I’m glad to have been invited to join in this banquet.
    My brain is straining to grasp the fullness of what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me here and I wonder at the connection with the Kinsman Redeemer? I look at Naomi and Ruth and see the model of Boaz redeeming them and bringing them back into the inheritance. Is this the same connection? That in our sin we have lost our inheritance and identity; Jesus redeems us and brings us back in?
    I am behind in my reading and have enjoyed reading all three of your lessons this morning. What a perfect way to walk into Easter week.
    Blessings, Kathleen.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Kathleen. Much appreciated. Yes, I’ve been swimming in this for a long time. It takes a while for the brain to adjust. 🙂

      The kinsman redeemer points to our inclusion in the covenant as Gentiles, but your point has merit.

      • Kathleen says:

        Mel, Your posts here have stirred up some questions and caused me and several other dear sisters in Christ to go to Scripture to examine what you are proposing here in the light of God’s Word. I know that you have studied this area far and wide, but I don’t think that all of Scripture bears what you are saying. You say that you see all Scripture through the lens of Love and the finished Work of Christ,however, Scripture tells us of the wrath of God, warns of the punishment for those who remain in sin, and calls us to the Kingdom of God through Jesus- Who was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Is 53:5)Therefore I think that we must look at Scripture through the lens of the Holy Spirit Who reveals to us God’s justice, His mercy, and His love and see how He is both restorative to those that He calls, and punitive to those who refuse Him. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I think that we begin on a slippery slope if we reject aspects of God seen in Scripture that we cannot accept due to our longing to be embraced only by what we understand (or want) love to be.
        Kathleen

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks for your comments and concerns, Kathleen. Very good points. I think I answer some of your concerns in parts four and five (I look specifically at Isaiah 53 in part five). Jesus received a most severe wounding imaginable, not from God, but from us! He received the full wrath of OUR enmity and poisonous hatred. Maybe you could read those two posts and see if they answer your concerns.

          God reveals sin’s true evil nature in the crucifixion of Jesus by the hands of sinful men. It reveals that we were enemies of God in our own darkened minds (Col.1:21). The betrayal and crucifixion revealed that, underneath all our religious platitudes and moral veneer, Jesus’ beaten body and death (think “The Passion of the Christ”!) is our sin personified. Contrast this with the Father’s love demonstrated to us who beat Him in Jesus’ sacrifice and broken body. This is what love looks like personified. It’s startling, to say the least!

          The real slippery slope, to me, is when we start to compartmentalize God’s love and justice, even His wrath, as if they are distinctly different attributes of His nature. We’ve done this in the West, but they all are the SAME expressions of love. There is no part of God that does not express itself in love. There is no part of the Father’s nature that’s different than how Jesus interfaced with sinners. This should be the beginning of all theological thought. When we see Jesus, we see the Father’s heart. Anything that is not seen in love is not who God is; it’s a religious distortion we’ve made up in our minds.

          The Eastern church (and the whole church for over 1,000 years) understood this, and they had a very different view of God’s wrath than the Medieval punitive angry god concepts that we’ve inherited from the Reformers. I think we’ve had the wrong “glasses” about this for a very long time and it’s kept a lot of people from God. It’s His goodness and kindness that leads to our reform (Rom.2:4), not the threat of punishment. Don’t get me wrong, God does have wrath and people will be judged one day. In fact, Jesus said they’ve already judged themselves (John 3:18-21). As C.S. Lewis said, this is the other side of the same coin (response to love). I may do a separate post on God’s wrath sometime in the future if I get a chance.

          Anyway, let me know if those parts answer your concerns. 🙂 Blessings.

  2. Pingback: Christ, the Passover Lamb (Part Two) | In My Father's House

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