Chapter 12: ‘In Him We Have Redemption’: The Witness from Scripture and the Early Church

BRC-cover design 1a 300 

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace …that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in One all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him‘ (Ephesians 1:7-10, NKJ).

When gladly received, the witness of Christ opens the way for a cleansing and liberating of the soul from its captivity to sin. The Gospel of Christ is scattered like a seed – taking root in the minds of those prepared to receive. With correct nurturing, the implanted seed grows, yielding glory to God in the life of the believer.

The Perfect Witness

‘… I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’ (John 19:37, NKJ).

His witness is as fresh and as relevant today as it was for the first disciples. It tells of the purging of sins of all believers at the cross: ‘God …has in these last days spoken to us by His Son … who being the express image of His person …when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb.1:1-3, NKJ). It is not that when we repent He purges our sins. He did this at the cross. ‘Our sins’ – the sins of those who love God  – of those who ‘hear’ – are atoned for through the offering Jesus made of His life, all those years ago – effective for all time. Through His word, gladly received, we enter into fellowship and union with God’s Son, so that His offering avails for us, as we are united with Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. His offering becomes our offering. His victory over sin and death becomes our victory. His righteousness before God becomes our righteousness, because we are covered by His grace and favour. Our own offering is deemed perfected, not because of ourselves, but because of the One in whom we have our being, whose offering is received on our behalf, as from all who aspire to be like Him in life.

Christ’s own sacrifice and offering became perfected for us through the suffering He endured – not that His own righteousness and sinlessness of being needed perfecting, of course (He was ‘without sin,’ Heb.4:15), but ‘perfected’ in the witness of that sinlessness in action even unto death, as a testimony to mankind lived out in His humanity. Through suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus was able to perfect and confirm His ministry on Earth. The sacrifice of Christ was thus perfected by His death upon the cross. That witness now resides in us who are called and chosen to be His disciples, in obedience to the truth.

‘…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him‘ (Heb.5:8-9, NKJ).

Jesus purged away the sins of the elect faithful – the true children of Abraham. The touch of Jesus purges away all impurity, like a burning coal from the altar of God (Isa.6:7). We are purified in Him like silver and gold. The dross is removed and the uncleanness taken away. As it is written of the Messiah in Malachi:

“And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.

“…He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver, He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal.3:1-3, NKJ).

The new temple is the body of Christ – the spiritual Church of God – and the chosen are its members: ‘…being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet.2:5, NKJ).

‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Pet.2:9, NKJ).

The refiners fire cannot be made impure, rather those things touched by the fire are made pure. So it is that in Christ alone, we are ‘made perfect’ – purified of sin. As the writer of Hebrews said, ‘the law made nothing perfect’ (Heb.7:19, NKJ):

‘For the law …can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshippers, once purged, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year’ (Heb.10:1-3. NKJ).

‘Every high priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered up one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified …Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin’ (Heb. 10:11-18, NKJ).

The perfection to which mankind can attain through Christ is that of being righteous in Him. The righteousness is of Him, not of ourselves, attributed to all who believe and obey. No more do sins condemn, for all our sins are covered by the offering that He made of His life. His perfect offering assures us of His grace and mercy as we seek to draw closer to God. In the second letter of Peter, we can read the opening address: ‘To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ …‘ (2 Pet.1:1, NKJ). We must not forget that Jesus was an offering of righteousness to God the Father on our behalf. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,’ Paul wrote (Rom.8:1, NKJ). The righteousness that is our due, if we are to inherit everlasting life, was paid with the perfect life that Jesus offered up for us; so that we are judged not as we are of ourselves, but as we are in union with God’s Son. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We shall be like Him in godliness of faith, growing from glory to glory until, in the resurrection, complete unity in the Spirit with God becomes our everlasting reality and reward.

In ourselves, we can only judge that we fall far short of the perfection and holiness that God demands. In the person of Christ, we have the Standard in whom we are called to aspire: ‘…till we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph.4:13, NKJ). When we look to the cross of Christ, we need to see not just a man, or even a ‘good’ man, hanging there – we need to see that here was the perfect Man, the Son of God – undefeated in His confrontation with evil – yielding His body to death, despising the shame, in order to confirm His truth and witness through the power of the resurrection, that we might believe, repent and be saved. We need to understand that here was ‘the Son’, offering hope to the needy, comfort to the downhearted, deliverance for the sick, release for the oppressed, the forgiveness of sins and adoption, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, for all who seek to be established in the love of God.

Throughout His ministry on Earth, ‘the Word made flesh’ set the example for others to follow. At the cross, we find the highest expression of God’s love and His willingness to forgive:

‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’ (Lk.23v34, NKJ).

This was the compelling revelation of what it is to love our enemies. This was Jesus revealing that with faith in God we need not fear death. This was God’s Son showing that we should forgive those who sin in ignorance – who do not realize their acts of sin. Sometimes those who err against God’s servants believe they are serving God. We should be careful to follow Christ’s teaching and example. ‘If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,”I repent,” you shall forgive him’ (Luke 17:3-4, NKJ). In accepting our repentance, God forgives us and accepts us with Christ, who gave Himself for us: ‘an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2, NKJ). Our sins are covered by His perfect life of sacrifice, made on our behalf.

Mankind is mortal by nature and was denied everlasting life in consequence of the corruption of sin. Today, for all who believe and repent, is the promise of the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God’ (Rom.8:14, NKJ). Without Christ, mankind is without hope.

Against the Word of God we all are judged and found wanting. As it is written, ‘There is none holy like the Lord’ (1 Sam.2:2, NKJ).

At the crucifixion, Jesus was first nailed to the cross as it lay on the ground before it was raised upright. – On this wooden cross was lifted up the summation of all righteousness. Here was the second Adam, without sin – whose life, fulfilled in all righteousness unto death on the cross, purges away the sins of all who are foreordained to be made clean in Him. Touched by his blood, symbolic of His sacrificial life poured out for us, we are made pure. In the first Adam, we die. In Christ, we are made alive.

The Confirmation

Jesus chose to die to fulfill all righteousness, that we might believe in Him through the power of the resurrection, repent and be saved.  To have done other, would have been to have denied mankind this witness. If He had chosen to save Himself, then His love for us would have been imperfect. If He had acted to save Himself, then He would have acted in apparent fear of death and lack of faith. If He had chosen not to die, then His witness would have been false. The prophecies concerning His death and resurrection would not have been fulfilled. If He had acted so as to deny us the witness of His resurrection in order that He avoid death, then that would have been to have acted in selfishness and sin. For Jesus to have done other, would have made our atonement with God through Him impossible. He therefore had to die that we might believe in Him, repent and be saved. When He came to the cross, Jesus could no more have denied us, than He could have denied Himself. His love conquered fear, His faith gave no place for doubt, and His righteous life gave assurance of victory over death.

The confirmation that His whole witness was true was the resurrection. At his appearance to His disciples, all doubts dissipated. Now sorrow turned to joy. They had become His witnesses: Jesus had risen from the dead! Their former faith in Him had been vindicated and clarity replaced confusion, as He and the Holy Spirit opened their minds to the truth (Lk.24:44-46; John 14:26).

How many saw Him? From the Gospels, we know that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9) and then to the women who had accompanied her (Mat.28:9-10). After this, He appeared to Simon Peter (Lk.24:33-34) and later to the other apostles, of whom Thomas was last to receive witness (John 20:24-29). On the road to Emmaus, He appeared to Cleopas and one other disciple as they walked, disturbed and confused by reports of women who had seen a vision of angels saying that He lived (Lk.24:13-33). From Acts, we read that Jesus ‘presented Himself alive after his suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen of them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3, NKJ). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Jesus, sometime after appearing to His twelve apostles (including Matthias, Acts 1:26) was also ‘seen by over five hundred brethren at once’ – stating, ‘of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15:6, NKJ). Then Jesus also appeared to James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor.15:7). Paul wrote: ‘last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Cor.15:8-9, NKJ; cf. Acts 9:1-19).

From these accounts, it would seem that most of the appearances served to reinforce the faith of those who had been His closest followers before His death – the one known exception being Paul, who was chosen in Christ even as he strove to oppose Him. The consequence was profound. Strengthened in faith and knowledge, Christ’s disciples were able to truly witness with conviction to the resurrection and to the life and sacrifice of the One who had died and risen from the tomb. Nevertheless, how could they hope to convince others with words alone – no matter how ardently spoken – when even close disciples, like Thomas and Cleopas, had found the claims that Christ had risen from the dead hard to accept ? The witnesses had to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them, as happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3; cf. Acts 1:8, Luke 24:49). Mark wrote: ‘And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs‘ (Mark 16:20, NKJ).

Following Pentecost, Jesus had an army of faithful servants empowered for service and willing to suffer and die, rather than deny the Lord who saved them. The force of the evangelistic tide was unstoppable, in spite of fierce opposition. The blood of the martyrs planted seeds of faith in the hearts of many who saw and heard. Soon, the message of the Gospel was reaching out across the known world – yielding an ever increasing harvest for the Church of God. The word was confirmed through the power of God.

We now look back upon those times and lament the apparent powerlessness of the Christian Church today. The ‘signs’ of the Holy Spirit confirmed the word. Could it be that the Church has lost its power for witness because it somehow, through corruption, had lost its original faith? The biblical evidence for attacks against the purity of the Gospel, as taught by the apostolic Church, is easy to find: Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thess.2:7-12; 1 Tim.4:1-3; 2 Pet.2:1-3; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-10; Jude 3-4, 16-19. These passages provide warnings of apostasy. Jesus foretold that many false teachers would assume to act in His name (Mat.7:21-23; Mat.24:24). We must conclude, therefore, that corruption did enter the Church and that this did not just weaken the power of witness where it took root, but also challenged orthodox understanding. With this in mind, it becomes essential that we seek to apply careful scrutiny to the teachings that we find within the early Church, as it began to develop. Conscious of the dangers facing the Church, Peter took steps to ensure that the true message would be preserved: ‘…though you know …and are established in the present truth … I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease’ (2 Pet.1:12-15, NKJ). At the time of writing this letter, it is apparent that he had read copies of epistles by Paul, sent to various Churches to which Paul had ministered: ‘…our beloved Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures‘ (2 Pet.15-16, NKJ). It is reasonable to deduce, therefore, that Peter began the process of compiling the canonical writings of the apostles to ensure that the Church would always have these as a reminder and affirmation of the orthodox apostolic faith. Peter rightly regarded Paul’s epistles as ‘Scripture’ – although quite capable of being misunderstood and wrongly interpreted by the misguided and unlearned. This body of literature is a written witness that has come down to us in the pages of the New Testament.

The Price Paid by Christ

‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ ((Mark 10:45; Matt.20:28, NKJ).

‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’ (1Tim.2:5-6, NKJ).

‘…our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify to Himself His own special people, zealous for good works’ (Titus 2:13-14, NKJ).

The word ‘lutron’ as used here, meaning ‘price of redemption’, or ‘ransom’, occurs in the Old Testament Greek Septuagint in passages where ‘a price’ was paid to effect recovery of property or release from bondage, such as that from slavery. The idea is clearly presented in the biblical statements given above. Christ sacrificed His life that man might be set free from bondage to sin:

‘Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?

But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness’ (Rom.6:16-17, NKJ).

Paul remarked that before being set free in Christ, we were being held in the snare of the devil, ‘having been taken captive by him at his will’ (2 Tim.2:26, NKJ).  The devil uses all manner of temptations and seductions to keep man enslaved to sin. The price Jesus gave to set us free was His life.

For whom the price of redemption is given is clear. Its beneficence is ‘provisionally universal’ (Vine): ‘for all’, ‘yet it is actual for those only who accept God’s conditions, and who are described in the Gospel statements as “the many”‘ (ibid, V. E. Dic., ‘ransom’).  However, a question arose amongst theologians of the early Church as to whom this price was given. In the post-apostolic era, this topic gave rise to much controversy. Apostolic understanding in the Church had come into contention with philosophical scholastic speculation. One early view that gained ground was that Jesus paid a ransom to the devil; but before considering this further, what can we know from the Bible?

In the biblical account, Peter tells us that Jesus was delivered into the lawless hands of His accusers ‘by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23, NKJ). It was the Father’s will that He should not prevent the powers of darkness from bringing suffering and death to His Son at the cross. It was the will of the Son not to put up any resistance, in acceptance of the Father’s will. ‘I lay down my life for the sheep,’ Jesus said,’...I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again’ (John 10:15-18), NKJ). Once the shield of God’s protection was lifted, Jesus was taken away and delivered up to the Jewish and Roman authorities to be tried, crucified and put to death (cf. Acts 3:13). In effect, He was delivered into the hands of Satan, for Jesus had told His disciples: ‘I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming …’ (John 14:30, NKJ).

This was the ‘life of the body’ that He laid down. Jesus permitted Himself to be sinfully taken and put to death. Without the permissive will of God, the devil could do nothing. Jesus had said, ‘No one takes it [My life] from Me.’ However, we need to distinguish between the life of His body and the life of His Spirit. ‘Satan’ was only allowed to take and destroy His body – His fleshly temple – not His life Spirit. His ‘Spirit’, He entrusted to God the Father at the time of His death: ‘”Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last’ (Lk.23:46, NKJ). He laid down His body that He might complete His life on Earth as an offering to God, in perfect righteousness. When He said at the cross, ‘It is finished [Gk. 'tetelestai': 'finished, accomplished, fulfilled', from the verb 'teleo', sometimes used to indicate the payment of tax, cf. Mt.17:24; Rom.13:6], it was like saying, ‘The redemption price is paid.’ Indeed, Paul asks, ‘Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor.6:20, NKJ). The powers of darkness hoped to destroy His life, but destroyed only His body – the temple of His life. The life of the Righteous is more than just a body. The resurrection confirms this! Jesus died in body, but the body was not the Person – not His life Spirit. The temple that housed His life was destroyed, but Satan could not destroy Christ’s life! This Jesus gave as an offering to God for the redemption of many. Having accomplished all, He rose again the third day, as He had prophesied. The gift of Himself as an offering to God on our behalf, in obedience to the Father’s will, fulfilled all righteousness. The price Jesus paid with His life at the cross permitted the witness of the resurrection and ‘purchased’ – with the fulfillment of all righteousness – our release from sin. We are now free to go. It is up to us to respond. We are called to come out of the kingdom of sin and death – the dominion of Satan – and to enter into Christ’s Kingdom of righteousness and life, by the grace of God. Jesus has opened the way.

We can clearly see, therefore, that Jesus gave Himself in sacrifice to God; but did the Son also give Himself up to the adversary? Jesus surrendered Himself to the will of God – which was to permit Himself to be taken and crucified, without resistance. This happened according to the foreknowledge of God. The authorities came and arrested Him. Jesus had allowed His body to be forcefully taken. In effect, Jesus had surrendered His body to the devil, in the knowledge of the resurrection. Jesus had the power to resist at any time, calling upon angels (Mat.26:53-56, NKJ), but chose not to do so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. But, in that Jesus was ‘delivered up’, we need to consider the motivation. The people who delivered Him up to Pilate, the Roman governor, had committed sin (Jn.19:11, NKJ). Yet, we cannot say this of God – that He sinned in choosing to deliver up His Son to death. Of course, the motivating factors matter. On the part of God, it was an act of goodness to save sinners. On the part of the devil – and those led to act with him, it was an act of evil to destroy the righteous. Nevertheless, the surrender of His body to Satan was not to pay a ransom to the devil. There was no ‘bargain’ (as appears in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S.Lewis). Satan did not accept the body of Christ in exchange for us. He did not give His life to Satan. He did not sacrifice His life to Satan. The price of our redemption was fully paid in death and given to God. When Jesus said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit’ (Lk.23:46, NKJ), He was giving His life to God. He had completed all that the Father had asked of Him, in perfect righteousness of life. This was the life that was offered, on our behalf, as the price of our redemption. It was not the body. Satan received the body, God the Father received the life. The body was not Jesus. Jesus entrusted Himself to God through death. The Lord’s body was not unlike any other human body. What mattered for our salvation was the offering that He made to God of His life. The price of our redemption was the precious life of the Son.

So, did Satan receive a ‘ransom’? No. In fact, the price should be called ‘the price of redemption‘, for God is not holding sinners captive to sin. A ransom is only given to those holding others captive in a bargain to secure release. Satan has no power to release anyone from sin. The sacrifice of Christ was not made to Satan. The price God demands from us is that of holiness, if we are to be saved. In Christ alone, this offering for our redemption is made to God: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12, NKJ). Christ is our Redeemer. Peter wrote:

‘…it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” …you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold …, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Pet.1:16, 18-19, NKJ).

The blood of Christ’s sacrifice symbolized His sacrificial life of holiness and purity poured out to God, to redeem us from sin and death. This was the price for our redemption. Not one drop of blood was poured out to Satan! ‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2, NKJ). Jesus gave Himself for us …to God.

Release from Bondage

The idea that man, in selling himself into slavery to sin, came into bondage to the devil and into his possession, is one that is found in some early Church writings; but, what does the Bible actually teach? Is it scriptural that Satan came to own sinners, as though they had became his possession through sin? Is it right to perceive a legal right in this matter on the part of the devil, as some have reasoned? Slavery was commonplace in ancient times. Slaves were often born into slavery. Many became slaves through war and captivity. Occasionally people sold themselves into bondage as slaves, as a result of dire poverty. Most, however, were held in bondage against their will.

On man’s ‘slavery’ to sin, Jesus said: ‘Whosoever commits sin is a slave to sin’ (John 8:34, NKJ). Satan is also described as having dominion over man in this world (John 14:30). Sinful man is under his power (Acts 26:18), having been ‘taken captive by him to do his will’ (2 Tim.2:26, NKJ). Paul had remarked of his own experience, as though ‘in the flesh’: ‘I am carnal, sold under sin’ (Rom.7:14, NKJ). – The context matters, as always. Please note that Paul had qualified his position previously: ‘For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Rom.7:5-6, NKJ). ‘In the flesh’, man is ‘sold under sin’ – metaphorically speaking. As such, carnal man is a slave to sin. To be set free from sin, the ‘old self’ must die: ‘…just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life, …knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin’ (Rom.6:4-7, NKJ).

So, in the theology of our redemption from sin, it is not the ‘old self’ that is redeemed. The life that we led in slavery to sin must die. The ‘new man’ is raised up in Christ to serve God in the ‘newness of the Spirit’. Of course, the price for redemption must be given to the One with the power to effect release. God alone has the power to set the captives free from sin and death – and it is to Him the price is given. That price is the life of righteousness, sufficient in Christ for all who call upon His name in faith.

Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are raised up to a new life of the Spirit. We must die to live. Baptism by immersion carries this significance (Rom.6:4; Col.2:12) as a powerful symbol of death and rebirth. Our old life has to ‘die’ in its slavery to sin, if we are to be free. To enter new life, we must become slaves of righteousness in Christ (Rom.6:18-19).

The devil cannot claim lordship over us if we, through repentance and faith in Christ, ‘die’ to sin. We are then free from the devil’s yoke, raised up in Christ.

When in captivity to sin, however, the devil can lay claim upon us by reason of the power he exerts through fear and sin itself. We might also say man becomes subject to the devil through his acceptance of the life the devil offers as an alternative to obeying God. This was the exchange by which man sold himself into sin. It was the price that brought him into bondage. Only through Christ is there deliverance.

Actual demonic possession is something else. This infers the inhabitation of a person’s body by an evil spirit or spirits. Yet, even in biblical times, as we find in the Gospels, this phenomena was viewed as being very abnormal. Satanic worshippers and others with psychopathic tendencies perhaps invite such demonic familiarity as they subject their will to evil. However, Satanic influence is far more common. Even so, whether we choose to be enslaved or not, without Christ all are in bondage to sin. In ourselves, we have no escape.

The law given to Moses could not bring the righteousness of God. Quite the opposite, Paul said. Rather, it brought ‘a curse’: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Gal.3:10, NKJ; Deut 27:26). No one but Christ succeeded in doing all that was written. Jesus said: ‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill’ (Mat.5:17). Nevertheless, the mere following of the letter of the Law does not make one righteous. Good works alone cannot produce the righteousness of God. Jesus gave witness to His obedience and faith - trusting that the Father would resurrect Him from the dead. To be the perfect offering of righteousness for our sakes, Jesus had to witness to perfect faith. The righteousness of God revealed through Christ crucified is the righteousness that comes through faith.

Now, Jesus was crucified unjustly, as though accursed under the Law. In Isaiah, we read: ‘Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’ (53:4, NKJ). The griefs and sorrows were inflicted by man, not God. He appeared cast off and rejected by God – a man of sin upon a cross, but this was not the reality. Jesus suffered the death of His body to sin, that we might also die to sin and be raised up with Him through faith. He died and was raised bodily.  Upon conversion to Christ, however, our dying and rising up is at first spiritual then bodily – for all who die in Christ – for with the new life is given the assurance of a bodily resurrection: ‘…the redemption of our body’ (Rom.8:23, NKJ). In Christ, we are redeemed spiritually in this age now, and bodily in the age to come, in ‘the resurrection of life’ (John 5:28-29, NKJ).

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: The Epistle to Diognetus

One of the earliest mentions of the ‘ransom’ of Christ is to be found in the ‘Epistle to Diognetus’, written by an unknown author, sometime in the second century A.D.. Although there is some doubt amongst scholars as to whether chapters eleven and twelve belong to this, or another work, there is no such doubt concerning the first ten chapters and little doubt that the letter was most likely written sometime within living memory of the apostolic age as a missionary and apologetic statement in defense of Christian beliefs. Bishop Lightfoot, the distinguished biblical scholar of the 19th cent., regarded it as ‘the noblest of early Christian writings’. Of importance to our study is the mention made of ‘ransom’. The translation by Lightfoot-Harmer follows the Roberts-Donaldson translation for comparison:

‘…how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us. He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!’

Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

‘…(oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,” the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!’

The Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot-Harmer translation, ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos, England, 1989.

If we give our attention to the statement: ‘He himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave his own Son as a ransom for us,’ and the corresponding translation of Lightfoot-Harmer: ‘in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us,’ we become aware that the Roberts-Donaldson translation has recognized a problem that exists with the more literal translation of each Greek word of the text, verbatim. The Lightfoot-Harmer succeeds as a literal translation, but the Roberts-Donaldson translation can be considered more clear, with respect to the intended meaning, according to the context of the passage. ‘God’, as referred to above, is obviously ‘the Father’, who gave up His own Son. It does not state here that the Son ‘took upon himself our sins’, but the Father. Moreover, the context asserts that it was God who was patient and forbearing – not bearing a grudge against us because of sin – who took up our sins and acted by giving His Son a ‘ransom’ for us. Leaving aside the matter of the ‘ransom’ that the Father gave of His Son, and that Jesus gave of Himself, let us consider how it was that the Father took up our sins. These were certainly not imputed to the Father and the sins are not, in this passage, ascribed to the Son. The context infers the only possible intended meaning: that it was the burden of our sins that the Father ‘took on’. He acted to deal with the burden of our sins – and did so by sending His Son for our redemption.

The Father’s taking upon Himself our sins is to be understood metaphorically. He is burdened by our sins (see in ch.3: ‘Surely He took up our iniquities and carried our sorrows’) and relieves us of them through Jesus Christ, in whom all who are redeemed have life. Now, the answer to the questions as to how the Father can give His Son as a ‘redemption price’ and to whom He is given is evident from Scripture.

The Father gave us His Son that we might give ourselves in return as new creations in Christ to God, by His grace. Jesus, also, in giving of Himself to us, does not cease in giving of Himself in obedience to the Father. Indeed, the Son eternally glorifies the Father in perfect righteousness. He is burdened by man’s sins and has acted that we might be purged of them.

The word ‘ransom’ (Gk.: ‘lutron’), as stated previously, is best understood as ‘the price of redemption’. Why, it may be asked, should God give the price for our redemption to us, if He is the One to whom the price of redemption should be paid? Why should He bother to give that which He will receive back in return? The answer is that, in so giving of His Son to us, the Father receives the harvest of redeemed mankind with Him in return. The price for our redemption is His life. In Christ, the righteousness of His life covers our own, justifying us before God, as we read in this letter:

For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!‘ The Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot-Harmer translation, ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos, England, 1989.

It was an elegant solution to the problem of how Jesus saves us from sin. As Christians, we stand before God in the righteousness of His Son. In Him, we are justified, we are forgiven, we are renewed of the Holy Spirit, as we seek to glorify God in our lives. The Son was given to us that we might be purged of our former sinful ways as we give ourselves in Christ to God. The old life is exchanged for new life in Christ! …’O sweet exchange!’

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Justin Martyr

The second century Christian apologist known to us as Justin Martyr (c. AD 100-165) provides us with a helpful insight into the theology deemed by him as ‘orthodox’ in a period that was still within a lifetime of the apostles. As stated in chapter 2, even the renowned Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyons, France), a pupil of Polycarp, the revered bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, who was ordained by the apostles (see ch.2, ref. note), quoted from his writings.

In the following passage, Irenaeus begins the quotation from Justin with a show of his agreement: ‘Truly has Justin remarked …’:

Truly has Justin remarked that before the Lord’s appearance Satan never dared to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he did not yet know his own sentence, because it was contained in parables and allegories; but that after the Lord’s appearance, when he had clearly ascertained from the words of Christ and his apostles that eternal fire has been prepared for him as he rebelled against God by his own free will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the rebellion, he now blasphemes by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment upon him as already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his rebellion to his maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 26; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

The comment reveals the assertion that Satan imputes the guilt of his rebellion – which is continued by the unrepentant – to his Creator, and not to himself. Not to be overlooked, therefore, is the belief – shown to be held here by both Irenaeus and Justin – that it is a satanic blasphemy to impute the guilt for sins to the Lord. Consequently, it should be realized, this quotation impinges adversely upon any notion that either Justin or Irenaeus held any belief that the Lord made a ‘ransom’ of His life for us as a substitute ‘imputed’ with our sins – juridically to pay the penalty for sin in our place.

To Justin, Jesus – far from being ‘cursed by God’, as one imputed with our sins – had become accursed of man. In the following passages, Justin explains how in reality Jesus had become ‘a curse for us’ (Gal.3:13), as Paul had remarked:

Nay, more than this, you suppose that He was crucified as hostile to and cursed by God, which supposition is the product of your most irrational mind. (93)

Just as God commanded the sign to be made by the brazen serpent, and yet He is blameless; even so, though a curse lies in the law against persons who are crucified, yet no curse lies on the Christ of God, by whom all that have committed things worthy of a curse are saved. (94)

If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? (95)

For the statement in the law, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,’ [Deut.21:23] confirms our hope which depends on the crucified Christ, not because He who has been crucified is cursed by God, but because God foretold that which would be done by you all, and by those like to you, who do not know. … For you curse in your synagogues all those who are called Christians; and other nations effectively carry out the curse, putting to death those who simply confess themselves to be Christians … (96)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

He wrote: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ – That is, not in truth, according to God’s judgment. Justin explained that on the crucified Lord fell not the curse of God, but the curses of man – uttered by man against Him, as indeed upon His followers. Many had wrongly supposed that the crucifixion was proof that Jesus was cursed by the Almighty. To Justin, such a perception was the product of a ‘most irrational mind (93, ibid.). Here, Justin presents us with the prophetic portrayal of the suffering servant – viewed by man as accursed of God, as He hung upon the cross. To Justin, the true reality was that Jesus was prepared to suffer all the curses of mankind in His desire to save mankind from sin.

These two perceptions of Christ at the cross – one of error, as from the world, and the other of truth, later to be recognized by His disciples – are to be observed in another passage from Justin. He speaks of the ‘two appearances of Christ’, as revealed in the rite regarding the Day of Atonement. Justin’s comments regarding the two goats of this rite – one sacrificed and the other goat chosen by lot ‘for Azazel’ (the ‘scape goat’ or ‘goat of departure’), driven into the wilderness – help us to understand how he interpreted the symbolism of this rite through what happened to our Lord.

Justin wrote:

And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast, of which one was sent away as the scape [azazel, goat of departure], and the other sacrificed, were similarly declarative of the two appearances of Christ: the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape; and His second appearance, because in the same place in Jerusalem you shall recognise Him whom you have dishonoured, and who was an offering for all sinners willing to repent, and keeping the fast which Isaiah speaks of, loosening the terms of the violent contracts, and keeping the other precepts, likewise enumerated by him, and which I have quoted, which those believing in Jesus do. And further, you are aware that the offering of the two goats, which were enjoined to be sacrificed at the fast, was not permitted to take place similarly anywhere else, but only in Jerusalem. (40)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

From this we see that Justin understood the ‘goat of departure’ as typifying Christ – the priests laid hands upon Him and sent Him away to die. In doing so, they dishonoured and killed the One who made an offering of His life for all who repent of sins, as prophesied.

Therefore, we see that Justin wrote of two appearances of Christ – one by which He came unrecognized, dishonoured and cursed; the second by which He is known and recognized by His disciples as the One who offered His life for all who will truly repent of sins and seek the righteousness of God. In this sense, the goat for Azazel prefigured what would happen to Christ during the first appearance. Jesus was rejected as an object of revulsion, just like the goat that was driven away to die in the wilderness.

Likewise, the body of the sin offering was also taken away ‘outside the camp’ – where it was completely burned and destroyed. However, its blood was sprinkled on and before the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies and afterwards sprinkled upon the altar to make atonement (Lev.16:27-28 & 15, 18, 19). This signifies that although the body of Jesus was to be taken and treated by man with contempt, His life would be received by the Father as a holy offering of atonement, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight. (The ‘life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement,’ Lev.17:11, NKJ.)

To Justin, the two goats of the Day of Atonement spoke prophetically of our Lord’s rejection, suffering and death on the one hand, and of our Lord’s acceptance as a worthy offering sufficient for all, removing the burden of man’s sin, on the other. The leaders, priests and people saw only the outward appearance. Nevertheless, the blood of the sin offering, sprinkled before God over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Place, amidst a cloud of fragrant incense, revealed the true inner reality of holiness and the Father’s acceptance of His Son: the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sin of the world’ – though paradoxically the focus of mankind’s sins, curses and rejection.

The goat of departure became reviled as an object of sin, as indicated in The Epistle of Barnabus (c. A.D. 70-130):

‘Notice how the type of Jesus is revealed! “And all of you shall spit upon it and jab it, and tie scarlet wool around its head, and then let it be driven into the wilderness.”’ (The Apostolic Fathers, 7, 7-8: Lightfoot, Harmer, ed. Holmes, pub. Apollos, 1989).

Although the source of this quotation used by Barnabus is unknown, the obvious revulsion shown towards the goat is echoed in a description found in the Mishna (a 2nd cent. AD compilation of Jewish precepts):

‘And they made a causeway for him because of the Babylonians, for they used to pull his hair and say to him, ‘Bear [away our sins] and go forth! Bear [away our sins] and go forth!”’ (Yoma, 6:4, Mishna, Talmud).

Symbolically burdened with the sin of the nation by the laying on of hands of the high priest, the goat had seemed to so ‘personify’ sin and was thus treated with contempt, as an object of revulsion.

In Isaiah, we read the Messianic verse: ‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting’ (Is.50:6, NKJ). At once, we recognize the figure of Jesus – for whom the goat of departure (spat upon, jabbed at and hair pulled) may be seen as prophetically typifying Christ and man’s treatment of Him at His trial and crucifixion.

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Irenaeus

‘Against Heresies’ was written by Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul – now Lyons, France, as a work originally in Greek, but now preserved as a translation in Old Latin with Greek fragments. In Book 5, he wrote of our redemption (‘ransom’):

‘He who is the almighty Word, and true man, in redeeming us reasonably by His blood, gave Himself as the ransom for those who had been carried into captivity. And though the apostasy had gained its dominion over us unjustly, and, when we belonged by nature to almighty God, had snatched us away contrary to nature and made us its own disciples, the Word of God, who is mighty in all things, and in no wise lacking in the justice which is His, behaved with justice even towards the apostasy itself; and He redeemed that which was His own, not by violence (as the apostasy had by violence gained dominion over us at the first, insatiably snatching that which was not its own), but by persuasion [secundum suadelam], as it was fitting for God to gain his purpose by persuasion and not by use of violence; so that the ancient creation of God might be saved from perishing, without any infringement of justice.’

Irenaeus, Adv. Her., Bk. 5, 1:1-2; Gustaf Aulen: ‘Christus Victor’ (Eng. trans.: A.G. Hebert, 1931;), p.27, SPCK, London, pub. 1970.

The above quotation from Irenaeus was itself a translation from the Swedish professor’s notable work, ‘Christus Victor’, which was in turn a quotation translated from the Latin translation of the original Greek. It nevertheless provides a reasonable starting point for understanding the teaching of Irenaeus on redemption. The Roberts-Donaldson translation of this passage from the Latin version follows:

‘…the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us [redimens nos] by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason [rationabiliter], gave Himself as a redemption [redemtionem] for those who had been led into captivity. And since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and, though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God, alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples, the Word of God, powerful in all things, and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy, and redeem [redimens] from it His own property, not by violent means, as the [apostasy] had obtained dominion over us at the beginning, when it insatiably snatched away what was not its own, but by means of persuasion [suadelam], as became a God of counsel [suadentem], who does not use violent means to obtain what He desires; so that neither should justice be infringed upon, nor the ancient handiwork of God go to destruction.

Since the Lord thus has redeemed [L. 'redimentes'; Greek root: 'lutron'] us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, imparting indeed God to men by means of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, attaching man to God by His own incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God,—all the doctrines of the heretics fall to ruin.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 1:1-2; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

The key word in this passage is ‘redeem’. Christ’s redemption is effective for us from the apostasy not because of force, against our will, but by reason of our response to His ‘persuasion’. Irenaeus also states that we are redeemed through Christ’s own blood. The price for our redemption from apostasy was His sacrificial life – effective for all who are persuaded through Christ to answer God’s call. Redemption is not forced upon us, but God makes His persuasive appeal to us through His Son that we might be raised up with Him to new life of the Spirit. Our salvation from sin and death depends on Christ, but we must respond – giving ourselves in oneness with the Son. We need to say, ‘Your will be done!’ – fully persuaded that His ways are right. God is both reasonable and just in redeeming us through the Word.

Gustaf Aulen was right in asserting that Irenaeus was not here propounding a ‘juridical’ doctrine of the atonement (ibid: p.27). Nevertheless, his view that: ‘Behind the somewhat obscure language about “persuasion” (secundum suadelam) lies the thought that Christ gave Himself as a ransom paid to the devil for man’s deliverance’ (p.28) – is an error, in my view, that he imposes upon the text, rather than it being one derived from it. There is no suggestion here that Irenaeus was advocating a ransom paid by the Lord to the devil to effect our release.

Aulen’s translation in the above: ‘behaved with justice even towards the apostasy itself,’ (‘juste etiam adversus ipsam conversus est apostasiam’) in the Roberts-Donaldson translation is rendered: ‘did righteously turn against that apostasy’. The former displays possible bias in favour of Aulen’s own stated conclusion – that Irenaeus supports the view that ‘Christ gave Himself as a ransom paid to the devil.’ Although right in saying that man: ‘is guilty, having sold himself to the devil,’ he is wrong to suggest that Irenaeus implied that justice demands the devil be paid ‘a ransom’ to effect our release – let alone a ransom paid with the precious blood of God’s Son! The Roberts-Donaldson translation of this, however, is clearly more in keeping with the Latin and leaves less room for meaning to be stretched beyond that intended by the author.

Irenaeus taught that the Word ‘summed up’ in Himself’ the whole human race from the beginning to the end, including man’s death:

‘For by summing up in Himself the whole human race from the beginning to the end, He has also summed up its death.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, ch.23:2; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

Where Adam failed, the second Adam succeeded, even in mortal death – revealing His own perfect righteousness and faith. This was the atonement of Christ for all who truly believe and repent. So, when Irenaeus speaks of Jesus ‘summing up’ the whole of mankind in Himself in life and death, He means as the second Adam, as the Head and Son of man. Now, in Him, all who turn to God in faith are delivered from the apostasy and the tyranny of the devil. The righteousness of Jesus in both life and death is the covering for all who believe in God’s Son. His whole offering, therefore, is the price of our redemption.

Satan was ‘vanquished by the Son of man keeping the commandment of God’ (ibid, Bk.5, ch.21:3). Christ’s victory ‘binds’ Satan, rendering him powerless to prevent the release of man from slavery to sin:

‘For when Satan is bound, man is set free; since “none can enter a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, unless he first bind the strong man himself.” The Lord therefore exposes him as speaking contrary to the word of that God who made all things, and subdues him by means of the commandment. Now the law is the commandment of God. …the Word bound him securely as a fugitive from Himself, and made spoil of his goods,— namely, those men whom he held in bondage, and whom he unjustly used for his own purposes’ (ibid).

Irenaeus affirmed that mankind can now be released from sin because the devil has been bound – not because the devil has been ‘bought off’ with a ransom! Rather, it is the Lord’s righteousness that defeats the power of sin, allowing all who turn to God in Christ to go free:

‘For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 3, ch.18:7, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

Now, through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son, God’s righteousness is revealed. All who obey His call are justified in Him, redeemed from sin and saved.

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Origen

Origen (c.AD 182-251) was a teacher at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, educated in Greek philosophy and Hebrew, and wrote widely on Christian topics, producing a comparative textual study of the Old Testament, the Hexapla – perhaps his most important work. He applied philosophical reasoning and allegorical methods of study in his writings – of which some received censure for hypotheses such as those on the pre-existence of souls and speculations concerning ‘universal salvation’. In Caesarea, Palestine, he found support and refuge after rejection at Alexandria. In the sixth century, his works were anathematized by ecumenical councils, which caused many copies to be destroyed, but he is still regarded by many as having been one of the greatest scholars and fathers of the early Church.

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 20:28), he said this :

‘To whom was it paid? [the ransom ] Certainly not to God; can it then be to the evil one? For he had power over us until the ransom was given to him on our behalf, namely the life of Jesus; and he was deceived thinking that he could keep his soul in his power; not seeing that he could not reach the standard required so as to be able to keep it in his power. So also Death thought it had him in its power, but it had no power over him who became ‘free among the dead’ and stronger than the authority of death, and so much stronger, that all who wish to follow him can do so, though overcome by death, since death has now no strength against them: for no one who is with Jesus can be seized by death.’

Origen, Comm. in Matthaeum, xvi:8; The Early Christian Fathers, p.224, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

The rhetoric, in the above, should help us to realize that this was Origen’s own speculative explanation about the atonement, not orthodox dogma. It is clear that ‘lutron’ was a word that he chose to interpret as ‘ransom’ – and it is easy, of course, to understand why he thought so. Jesus was handed over to ‘the evil one’. Satan had the Word put to death. The devil, not God, had man bound, because of sin. Therefore, he reasoned, the ‘ransom’ had to be given to the devil. Upon this presupposition, he developed his view. Unfortunately, when the foundation for an argument is flawed, the construction becomes flawed also – and this is the case here.

A ‘ransom’ paid to Satan would presuppose that Satan has the authority and power to set us free. – He has not. Moreover, a ‘ransom payment’ suggests some kind of transaction. Again, it is unthinkable to imagine God striking any deal with the devil. However, Origen does not say here that the devil is deceived of God (which would be a further problem!) – it could be that Origen imagined the devil deceived himself. Nevertheless, these difficulties disappear when we realize that the price for our redemption – Christ’s life – is given to God who alone has the power to deliver us from sin and death. Our captivity to sin is of our own making and man falls under the devil’s power through yielding to his temptations. With repentance and faith in Christ we are delivered. The ‘blood’ of atonement, signifying His life, was poured out on the altar of God and received up for us with sweet incense, the prayers of the saints.

Referring to the atonement in ‘Contra Celsum,’ Origen reasoned that Christ’s sacrifice was similar in some respects to the widespread pagan belief that the self-sacrifice of a righteous man might mysteriously avert in some way a national calamity brought about by evil spirits:

‘For did not the disciples of Jesus see …that He who was crucified … underwent this death voluntarily on behalf of the human race,—that this was analogous to the case of those who have died for their country in order to remove pestilence, or barrenness, or tempests? For it is probable that there is in the nature of things, for certain mysterious reasons which are difficult to be understood by the multitude, such a virtue that one just man, dying a voluntary death for the common good, might be the means of removing wicked spirits, which are the cause of plagues, or barrenness, or tempests, or similar calamities.

Origen, Against Celsum, Bk. 1, ch. 31, Vol. 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

It is clear that Origen saw a parallel to the pagan idea of a payment of someone’s righteous self-sacrifice to ward off evil spirits, in the ‘ransom’, as he reasoned, paid of Christ’s life to the devil. The difference being mainly one of degree, in that the payment of the life of God’s Son was sufficient, not just for the local inhabitants of a city or region, but for all people everywhere throughout the world. It seems apparent that his knowledge of classical Greek literature and his understanding of pagan culture had a marked influence on the formulation of his theology.

Note: Origen’s comment on Hebrews 2:9

‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.’ (Heb.2:9, NKJ)

In his commentary on John’s Gospel, he recorded awareness of two possible readings in the Greek of this verse:

‘He is a great High-Priest, having offered Himself as the sacrifice which is offered once for all, and not for men only but for every rational creature.  For without ["choris"] God He tasted death for every one.  In some copies of the Epistle to the Hebrews the words are “by the grace of ["chariti"] God.”  Now, whether He tasted death for every one without God, He died not for men only but for all other intellectual beings too, or whether He tasted death for every one by the grace of God, He died for all without God, for by the grace of God He tasted death for every one.  It would surely be absurd to say that He tasted death for human sins and not for any other being besides man which had fallen into sin, as for example for the stars.’

Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John: (40) Christ as Righteousness; As the Demiurge; Vol. 9, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1885 (CCEL)

Here we find Origen’s belief that Jesus died also for the angels who sinned, not just for fallen man. He doesn’t argue as to which reading is correct, but merely states that either way Jesus died for ‘everyone’ – i.e., everyone separated from God (including the angels). He did not limit the saving grace of God to man alone. Of course, the writer of Hebrews was referring to man’s salvation and it was wrong of Origen to infer as he did. Nevertheless, the alternative reading requires more attention.

Bruce M. Metzger, the distinguished Bible scholar, said this:

‘Instead of “chariti theon” [by the grace of God], which is very strongly supported by good representatives of both the Alexandrian and the Western types of text (P46 Aleph A B C D 33 81 330 614 it vg copsa, bo, fay al), a rather large number of Fathers, both Eastern and Western, as well as 0121b 424c 1739 vgms syrmss, read “choris theon” [without God]. The latter reading ["choris theon"] appears to have arisen either through a scribal lapse, misreading “chariti” as “choris”, or, more probably, as a marginal gloss (suggested by 1 Cor 15.27) to explain that “everything” in ver. 8 does not include God; this gloss, being erroneously regarded by a later transcriber as a correction of “chariti theon”, was introduced into the text of ver. 9.’

Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament; p.664, United Bible Society, London, 1971

Most scholars would agree that the external evidence from a wide variety of manuscript text types and geographical locations strongly supports the reading “chariti theon” (by the grace of God) and, indeed, it remains the most commonly used rendering in translations. The text type is an important consideration because Church Fathers could have quoted from manuscripts of the same source, making their numerical witness less significant. However, reasons to account for the error are suggested in favour of both veriants. F.F. Bruce, taking up a similar position to Metzger, put forward the following:

‘I am disposed to agree that “chariti theon” was an early correction of “choris theon”, but that “choris theon” was not part of the original text of Hebrews. It was first introduced, probably, as a marginal gloss against Heb 2:8, where Ps 8:6 is quoted to the effect that God has subjected everything to the “son of man.” The glossator intended “apart from God” to qualify “everything”—”everything, that is to say, apart from God himself.” In adding this qualification he followed the precedent of Paul who, quoting the same psalm in 1 Cor 15:27b, points out that the statement everything has been subjected to him self-evidently excludes the one who subjected everything to him. In due course the marginal gloss was introduced into the text at a point where the scribe thought it appropriate—in Heb 2:9. If that is so, the original wording of the clause was “in order that he should taste death for everyone.” The scribe probably supposed, as Bengel did, that “choris theon” could qualify “huper pantos” [for everyone], but in that case it would have followed “huper pantos” instead of preceding it. Metzger (1971: 664) suggests that the scribe who incorporated “choris theon” into the text did so because he thought “choris” was intended to be a correction of “chariti”. But it seems more likely to me that “chariti theon” was not originally in the text but was the emendation of a second scribe who could make no sense of “choris theon” in the context.’

F.F. Bruce, “Textual Problems in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” pp.27-29, David Alan Black, ed., Scribes and Scripture: New Testament Essays in Honour of J Harold Greenlee. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992

So, both Metzger and Bruce, two of the leading textual critics of recent times, concluded that a mistake arose from the incorporation of a marginal gloss into the text. Bruce’s comment: ‘… it seems more likely to me that … a second scribe … could make no sense of “choris theon” ["without God" or, "apart from God"] in the context’ – makes a lot of sense. It would be impossible for the High Priest of the epistle to minister the atonement before God if cut-off from Him.

A translation in English from the traditional Eastern Syriac(Aramaic ‘Peshitta’) text, renders Heb.2:9:

‘We see that he is Jesus, who humbled himself to become a little lower than the angels through his suffering and his death, but now he is crowned with glory and honour; for he tasted death for everyone but God.’ (Heb.2:9, Lamsa translation)

From this, we might appreciate how it is possible to translate the verse in question so as to retain harmony with the epistle in its entirety, even when the Aramaic corresponds to ‘choris theon’ in the Greek. The internal evidence should not be restricted to the immediate passage in question. If there is a question that relates to context, we need to consider the whole document and related comments. “Without God” or “apart from God”, when used to mean ‘complete separation’ from God, does not agree with the context of the letter as a whole.

In Hebrews 9 we can read of the offering that Jesus made as our High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek: ‘…who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (v14). The Holy Spirit was the One through whom Christ offered up His life to God. There is no indication of separation here. Indeed, if the anointing had left Him, then Jesus would no longer have been ‘the Christ’ – no longer anointed. The idea of separation occurring at the cross is, as we know, a Gnostic one. There was abandonment, of course, in that Jesus was given up to suffer – but not spiritual.

Keeping to Hebrews, we might note in that same verse (14) that Jesus presented Himself ‘without spot’ to God – not a reference to His physical condition after a Roman scourging! In fact, the righteousness and sinlessness of our High Priest receives special emphasis: ‘…holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ (7:26). He was ‘without sin’ – not His, not ours (4:15). Why? – Because He was undefiled, separate from sinners, without spot, as our High Priest. His blood (symbolic of His life) purifies the unclean. The High Priest could not offer up an unclean sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus offered up His own blood untainted by sin. Yes, Jesus was the sin offering for our sakes – and to be so, He had to be without sin. As we read in Hebrews, Jesus Christ: ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Heb.13:8, NKJ). His purity does not change. At the cross, the Truth of God remained the Truth. Here, He perfected His witness for mankind in all righteousness and faith, that we might believe in Him, repent and be saved. Jesus made this revelation to mankind that all who seek righteousness might hear, believe in Him and live.

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: The ‘Cappadocian Fathers’

In the 4th century of the Christian era, three respected Church scholars of Cappadocia distinguished themselves in the defence of the Church against heretical teachings, especially against Arianism. These were the brothers Basil, bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, Gregory, bishop of Nyssa and their friend, Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus. In opposition to the Arianist factions, who disputed the nature of God, they shared a common zeal. However, they were not without their differences – and over the idea that a ‘ransom’ was paid to the devil there was disagreement.

Gregory of Nyssa held the view that a ransom was paid of Christ to the devil:

The Enemy [the devil], therefore, beholding in Him such power, saw also in Him an opportunity for an advance, in the exchange, upon the value of what he held. For this reason he chooses Him as a ransom for those who were shut up in the prison of death.’

Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa: The Great Catechism, ch.23; trans.: W. Moore & H.A. Wilson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol.5, ed. H. Wace & P. Schaff, 1892 (CCEL)

He follows Origen’s reasoning that the devil, in accepting the ransom, was deceived; however, the conclusion to be drawn from the ‘fish hook’ analogy that follows also clearly makes the suggestion that God used deception in persuading the devil to take the bait:

 ‘…in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity 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, …’

Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa: ibid., ch.24 (CCEL)

Gregory of Nazianzus, on the other hand, would have none of it. To teach that God paid a ransom of Christ to the devil was to him outrageous!:

‘To whom was this ransom offered, and why? To the Evil One? What an outrage! If it is supposed not merely that the thief received a ransom from God, but that the ransom is God Himself – a payment for his act of arbitrary power so excessive that it certainly justified his releasing us! If it was paid to the Father, I ask first, why? We were not held captive by him. … Is it not clear that the Father accepts the sacrifice, not because he demanded or needed it, but because this was part of the divine plan, since man had to be sanctified by the humanity of God; so that he might rescue us by overcoming the tyrant by force, and bring us back to himself through the mediation of the Son …’

Gregory of Nazianzus: Oration 45:22; The Later  Christian Fathers, p.112, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

Gregory of Nazianzus regarded the sacrifice of Christ as sanctifying of all who are rescued from the devil’s captivity – brought back to God through the mediation of the Son. The devil was forcefully overcome – bound – that humanity might obtain release. The sacrifice was the price of our redemption ‘that the Father accepts’ – the sacrifice was given to God.

In the same passage, he describes the ‘brazen serpent’ of Numbers 21:8 as an ‘antitype’ of Christ, signifying death to the powers of the serpent:

‘The serpent of brass hung up as a remedy against the bites of snakes is not a type of Christ in his sufferings on our behalf, but an antitype: and it saves those who see it, not because it is believed to be alive, but because it has been done to death, and brings to death its subordinate powers when it meets with the extinction it deserves. And what may we quote as a fitting epitaph? It is this. ‘Where is  your sting, O death? Where is your victory, O grave?’ [1 Cor.15:55] You have been laid low by the cross, put to death by the life giver. You are dead, motionless, inert, and (to keep the picture of the snake) you are hung on high on a pillar.’

Gregory of Nazianzus: Oration 45:22; The Later  Christian Fathers, p.112, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

Yes, here, Gregory speaks of the cross as Christ’s victory over His ‘antitype’ and death. Gregory asserted that the brass snake on a pole, lifted up by Moses, signified deliverance from the powers of the devil (the serpent) through faith in Christ. The brass snake did not signify that Jesus had become sin, but that He had defeated the one who was holding man captive to sin. In his last great theological oration, he attempted to correct errors that were being promulgated in some quarters of the Church. His opposition to the idea of a ransom being given to the devil is clear and unequivocal. With regard to Jesus being called ‘sin’ and ‘curse’ at the cross, he said this:

‘…For He is made not only a Jew, and not only doth He take to Himself all monstrous and vile names, but even that which is most monstrous of all, even very sin and very curse; not that He is such, but He is called so.  For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law? But it is in order that He may carry His display of humility even to this extent, and form us to that humility which is the producer of exaltation.’

Gregory of Nazianzen: Oration 37:1; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

In these comments, we find echoes of Justin Martyr, who wrote of this with a like-minded understanding (see above, Dialogue with Trypho: 93, 94, 95, 96). It was not that Jesus was ‘very sin’ and ‘very curse’, but that He wascalled’ so. ‘For how can He be sin,’ Gregory wrote, ‘Who sets us free from sin?’ Or, ‘How can He be a curse, Who redeems us from the curse?’ Jesus humbled Himself even to the point of being slandered and called names that were a blasphemy and the antithesis of truth – that we, having humbled ourselves before God, might be raised up together with Him to new life, in exaltation of God who sets us free.

Nevertheless, the view that the Christ was given as a ransom to the devil for our exchange appears also to have been that of Basil of Caesarea:

And you, he says, who trust in the uncertainty of riches, listen. You have need of ransoms [lutron] that you may be transferred to the freedom of which you were deprived when conquered by the power of the devil, who taking you under his control, does not free you from his tyranny until, persuaded by some worthwhile ransom [Gk.: 'lutro'], he wishes to exchange you. And the ransom ['lutron'] must not be of the same kind as the things which are held in his control, but must differ greatly, if he would willingly free the captives from slavery. Therefore, a brother is not able to ransom ['lutrosasthai'] you. For, no man can persuade the devil to remove from his power him who has once been subject to him, not he, at any rate, who is incapable of giving God a propitiatory offering [Gk.: 'exilasma'] even for his own sins.

Basil of Caesarea: ‘Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, Homily 19’:  ‘Psalm 48’ (49), p.316;  trans.: A.C. Way; Cath. Uni. Of America Press (1963)

Notice above that Basil speaks of man being in need of ‘ransoms’ (plural). It would seem that he believed a ransom was given both to Satan and to God, for he also states that a ‘ransom’ was given ‘to God’ in this same homily (on Psalm 49) - as indicated in the Psalm itself :

‘None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom [price of redemption: Heb. 'kopher' (root)] for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly, …’ (Ps.49:7, NKJ)

Basil wrote:

(4) ‘He shall not give to God his ransom [Gk.: 'exilasma'], nor the price of the redemption [Gk.: 'lutroseos'] of his soul.’ Do not, then, seek your brother for your ransoming [Gk.: 'apolutrosin'], but Him who surpasses your nature, not a mere man, but the Man God Jesus Christ, who alone is able to give ransom [Gk.: 'exilasma', m. 'an appeasement' or 'an atonement'] to God for all of us, because ‘God has set him forth as a propitiation [Gk.: 'exilasma'] by his blood through faith.’

Basil of Caesarea: ‘Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, Homily 19’:  ‘Psalm 48’ (49), p.317;  trans.: A.C. Way; Cath. Uni. Of America Press (1963)

Basil speaks of a ransom having been received of Christ by the devil but also that Christ’s sacrifice was the price of atonement given to God. It is not clear how he fully understood the ransoms, but we could speculate that he believed the devil was deluded in thinking that the ‘ransom’ of Christ was being given to him, when in fact the price of our redemption was being offered to God. – Basil might also have believed that the one sacrifice of Christ served as both a ‘ransom’ of the body given to the devil on the one hand, and as a sacrificial life, being the price of redemption for our atonement, given to God on the other. Even so, in this regard, what is certain is that his close friend and fellow bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus, refuted any notion that a ransom could have been paid of Christ to the devil. In his view, this teaching was a serious error.

There is a need to reiterate some of the views expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus for the sake of clarity: The image of a serpent on a pole was not a type of Christ, but an antitype – signifying that the devil had been overcome and his power destroyed through the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus was not ‘very sin’ or ‘very curse’ because of the crucifixion, but is merely ‘called so’ – as indeed He is wrongly called by many other ‘vile names’. He suffers these humiliations in His humility in order that we might be set free from sin and be exalted with God. This is important to recall as we seek to understand correctly what Gregory of Nazianzus had meant by the following:

‘V.  … look at it in this manner:  that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body.  As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. … And thus He Who subjects presents to God that which he has subjected, making our condition His own. ’

Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:5; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

Here, Gregory is talking about apparent culpability on the part of Christ in the eyes of the world because of the sins of all who are called by His name. In the same way, by becoming Head of the body – the Church, ‘just so’ Christ ‘is called disobedient’. Christ is blasphemed because of our disobedience. He accepts us just as we are – with all our sins and faults – and in doing so accepts that He will be cursed because of us. Of course, He is burdened by our sins and accepts us that we may be cleansed of them. In the process, His own perfect holiness is hidden from those who only see Him through all who are called by His name. People see our disobedience and attribute sin and disobedience to Christ. He suffers this that we, who are saved through Him, might be reformed and raised up to God in Him. Our fallen condition is reformed in Christ till this becomes as His own. Indeed, Paul wrote that Jesus ‘gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, …for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13, NKJ).

Gregory continued:

‘…Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His Sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?)  But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us.  For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved.  Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first [Ps.22] Psalm refers to Christ.’

Gregory of Nazianzen, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:5; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

According to Gregory, Jesus spoke with empathy for ourselves, expressing words as though from us. He was not forsaken of God – but mankind was forsaken because of sin. Gregory said that ‘we were the forsaken and despised’ – past tense, but now are ‘taken up and saved’ through His sufferings. Remember, he had said that Christ was not ’very sin’ – nor forsaken. Metaphorically speaking, therefore, Jesus takes us up with Him at the cross. Paul wrote that ‘our old man was crucified with Him’ (Rom.6:6, NKJ). Of himself, Paul wrote, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Gal.2:20. NKJ). Perhaps it is easier to understand Gregory’s explanation if we ask another question: Who was it who felt abandoned at that time? - Jesus? – No. In Himself, He knew He was not being abandoned by the Father. Gregory ruled this idea out at the very start: ‘It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought.’ God did not turn away or act in fear of looking at His Son in His sufferings. This idea was false. – Did those who called for His crucifixion? – No. They felt justified in killing Him. – So, who did? – Obviously, His disciples. They were the ones questioning in their hearts why God should abandon the One they had called Christ – why they, also, should be left alone, without the One in whom they put their trust. The words of Jesus expressed His own empathy for the cry of utter despair in the hearts of His followers, questioning the reason for the cross. Jesus, of course, already knew the answer.

So, when we read his comment: ‘He makes His own our folly and our transgressions’ (Ibid: Oration 30:5) we need to understand this in the context of his other stated views. Remember, Gregory had categorically stated that Jesus could not be judged ‘sin’ or ‘a curse’ : ‘For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law?’ (Ibid. Oration 37:1). It was Gregory’s view, therefore, that in His humility, Jesus accepts to suffer Himself to be called by ‘many vile names’ (Ibid), including, ‘very sin and very curse’ (Ibid), because of the folly and transgressions of those who are called by His name. The world ascribes these to Christ, who is the Head of His Church – and it is from a worldly point of view that He is made ‘sin’ and accursed, i.e. in the eyes of the world. Any attempt to imply that Gregory of Nazianzus inferred penal substitution in his remarks would be an outrageous imposition, in the context of his stated views as illustrated above. Nevertheless, it is apparent from the tone of his arguments that Gregory had become alarmed that contrary views to those he held were being disseminated at that time by certain factions within the Church.

Jesus reveals that He empathizes with all our sufferings because of sin – including all our feelings of doubt and fear – though not harbouring any doubts or fears in Himself. He understood what His followers were experiencing. He fully knew the pain caused by sin. By extension, we also, as His disciples – once ‘forsaken and despised’ – are ‘taken up and saved’. Our old self is crucified with Him and our sins purged. In His perfect love, all fears of doubt are cast out:

‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love’ (1 John 4:18, NKJ).

Jesus spoke in His humanity with empathy for all the sufferings of man. Certainly, His body was abandoned to be taken and crucified, but in Himself He was not forsaken. The Father was always with Him and did not turn away. The question that was uttered for our benefit at the cross begs an answer from all that is revealed concerning Him, that we might know the Truth and find reconciliation with God.

 Gregory added:

‘He condescends to His fellow servants, nay, to His servants, and takes upon Him a strange form, bearing all me and mine in Himself, that in Himself He may exhaust the bad, as fire does wax, or as the sun does the mists of earth; and that I may partake of His nature …’

Gregory of Nazianzen, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:6; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

In our adoption as children of God, as Christ’s disciples, we are being purified in Him and purged of sin, that we might grow in the Spirit into His likeness, from glory to glory. In Christ, we are justified by the precious and pure life of the Lamb poured out as a covering sacrifice for all who truly believe, that we might be raised up to together with Him and redeemed through faith.

‘…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet.1:18-19, NKJ).

Indeed, it is the biblical revelation that when we look to the cross of Christ, we need to see not just a man, or even a ‘good’ man, hanging there – but the perfect Man, the Son of God – undefeated in His confrontation with evil – yielding His body to death, despising the shame, in order to fulfill all righteousness for our sakes and to confirm His truth and witness for us through the power of the resurrection, that we might believe, repent and be saved. We need to understand that here was ‘the Son’, offering hope to the needy, comfort to the downhearted, deliverance for the sick, release for the oppressed, the forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption by the gift of the Holy Spirit and everlasting life for all who seek to be established in the likeness and love of God.

My prayer is that all who read this book will be encouraged to proclaim this truth.


‘To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen’

(Rom.16:27, NKJ)



A share in ministry?

In publishing Part One of this book in print and now as an expanded and extensively revised online edition, together with Part Two, I have wished to follow the instruction: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Mt.10v8). To those who have made private requests, the initial publication of Part One of the book was sent without any charge to the recipients and was distributed not only within the UK but also to persons requesting the book in other countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The printed version is important for dissemination, if not essential, as not everyone has access to a computer or the inclination to read the whole of a book online.

The online edition of the book (containing Parts One & Two) is currently made available only online through, but it is hoped that this will also receive publication in print, pending finance. That is where readers might help. So far, I have been in a position to fund matters alone, but can do so no longer. It is now of personal necessity that I humbly make my situation known.

Perhaps I have been too independent and too proud to ask for assistance in the past. I have never wanted to peddle the Gospel and do not want to do so now. However, it is written that ‘you shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’. I need the financial assistance to carry this work on and to the next stage. Truly the Lord acts in ways beyond all that we can imagine and it is my hope that others will be brought in to contribute to allow this ministry to expand for the building up of His Church.

Having freely received, some may feel the desire to also freely give. I feel like a man with a begging bowl in a public arena, seeking help – but not for myself. It is that I might have the means to share the more. If, however, you are not yet able to give any financial support, do not worry. The Lord bless you. Give me your prayers and share with others. If you are concerned about internet security, the system below has been tested and works well. (Though to date, apart from my wife donating, I have not received anything from anyone else!)

It also seems wrong to deny others this means of sharing in the work. For this reason, anyone who wants to make a financial contribution can now do so online by using the secure PayPal or card facility, as shown below.

Thank you for reading.

God bless you!

Norman McIlwain,

6th February, 2013

To God be the glory. Amen.


BRC-cover design 1a 300