The Sacrifice Of Christ As A Ransom Paid To The Devil -- By: Henry A. Stimson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 065:260 (Oct 1908)
Article: The Sacrifice Of Christ As A Ransom Paid To The Devil
Author: Henry A. Stimson


The Sacrifice Of Christ As A Ransom Paid To The Devil

Henry A. Stimson

New York City

As there is frequent reference in popular discussion to the idea that the doctrine of the early church was that the sacrifice of Christ was a ransom paid to the devil, it may be well to quote the authority of Macpherson’s “Christian Dogmatics,”1 a recent very thorough theological work for the following statement. He points out that in fact there is no developed

theory of the Atonement in the writing of the Fathers. They were content with the fact, which was generally stated in scriptural phraseology; but in no case do they work out elementary hints as to the direction in which a theory is to be sought, in the form of any complete theory of the idea and purpose of the death of Christ. That is not to be found until the time of Anselm and the Scholastics. His statement is as follows:—

“It is very commonly maintained that the notion of a redemption paid to the devil, which finds expression under a variety of forms in the patristic writings, is such a theory, and that the fathers who make use of that conception meant to propose it as a regularly elaborated exposition of the work of Christ in man’s redemption. A careful study of the works of Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, and even Gregory of Nyssa, will show that the idea of ransoming the sinner from the power of the devil is with them nothing more than a concrete way of representing the truth that Christ’s death must be considered as having a real power in eliminating evil from the nature and life of man, and overthrowing its dominion. This, however, is merely a restatement of the fact of the atonement in reference to one of its important aspects. The concrete representation of this fact led to the adoption of a certain unfortunate phraseology, which, however, ought to be regarded as simply an exaggerated use of the personification of sin, which within legitimate limits has been employed by Paul himself. The statement, which has given just cause of offence, made most distinctly by Gregory of Nyssa, that the devil was deceived into accepting Christ in the place of the sinful race of men, is simply an odd conceit by which it was supposed £hat certain aspects of the Saviour’s work could be illustrated. There was evidently no intention on the part of those early Christian writers to go beyond a restatement of the New Testament exhibition of the work of Christ, and no thought of formulating a theory on the basis of these Scripture facts. It is only with the opening of the scholastic age that we meet with any attempt to frame a theory as to the meaning and the essential idea of the atonement. T...

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