The Bible’s answer
Jesus’ sacrifice is the means by which God delivers, or saves, humankind from sin and death. The Bible refers to the shed blood of Jesus as a ransom price. (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18, 19) Thus, Jesus said that he came “to give his life a ransom for many.”—Matthew 20:28, King James Version.
Why was “a ransom for many” needed?
The first man, Adam, was created perfect, or without sin. He had the prospect of living forever but lost it by choosing to disobey God. (Genesis 3:17-19) When he had children, he passed on to them the defect of sin. (Romans 5:12) For this reason, the Bible indicates that Adam “sold” himself and his children into slavery to sin and death. (Romans 7:14) Being imperfect, none of them could buy back what Adam lost.—Psalm 49:7, 8.
God felt compassion for Adam’s descendants in their hopeless situation. (John 3:16) However, God’s standard of justice required that he not simply overlook or excuse their sins without a valid basis. (Psalm 89:14; Romans 3:23-26) God loves mankind, so he provided the necessary legal means for their sins to be not only forgiven but also eliminated. (Romans 5:6-8) The ransom is that legal basis.
How does the ransom work?
In the Bible, the term “ransom” involves the following three elements:
It is a payment.—Numbers 3:46, 47.
It brings about a release, or redemption.—Exodus 21:30.
It corresponds to the value of what is paid for, or covers it.*
Consider how these elements apply to the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Payment. The Bible says that Christians were “bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23) That price is the blood of Jesus, with which he “bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”—Revelation 5:8, 9.
Correspondence. Jesus’ sacrifice corresponds exactly to what Adam lost—one perfect human life. (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, 45, 46) The Bible says: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one person [Jesus Christ] many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) This explains how the death of one man can pay the ransom for many sinners. In fact, Jesus’ sacrifice is “a corresponding ransom for all” those who take the steps necessary to benefit from it.—1 Timothy 2:5, 6.
In the Bible, the original words translated “ransom” convey the idea of a price, or thing of value, that is paid. For example, the Hebrew verb ka·pharʹ basically means “cover.” (Genesis 6:14) It usually refers to the covering of sin. (Psalm 65:3) The related noun koʹpher refers to the price paid to accomplish this covering, or redemption. (Exodus 21:30) Similarly, the Greek word lyʹtron, which is usually translated “ransom,” can also be rendered “redemption-price.” (Matthew 20:28; The New Testament in Modern Speech, by R. F. Weymouth) Greek writers used the term to refer to a payment given to ransom a prisoner of war or to release a slave.