Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Good Question:

Whom Exactly Does Allah Pay The Ransom to? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Leading taqiyyist and Christophobe Paul Bilal Williams links to a youtube clip where another preeminent Muslim taqiyyist, Shabir Ally, raised some challenges to Dr. David W. Shenk concerning the death of Christ. After citing Mark 10:45 where Jesus says that he, the Son of Man, has come to give his life as a ransom for many, Ally asked:

“To whom is the ransom paid? Now if he paid the ransom to God in order to set us free, then God looks like a despotic ruler who takes the blood of his Son in order to let us go free, whereas he could have done that anyway.”

Ally also stated:

“If the ransom is paid to the devil, that shows that the devil is on equal bargaining terms with God, because here he can claim the very Son of God in order to let us go free as God wants.”

A little later in the same clip, Ally made the following comment in one of his debates with Christian apologist Jay Smith as he distorted the meaning of Jesus’ parable concerning the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32:

“Nobody has to die for somebody to be forgiven, because if somebody dies there is no forgiveness. You know, that means I just took my full price, I am a cruel judge and just exact the full punishment, somebody goes and dies, and then I am happy. But if God was loving and kind, he should be loving and kind to his Son as well, and save his Son by some other means.”

The answer to Ally’s questions is rather simple. The holy Scriptures are explicitly clear that the Lord Jesus Christ voluntarily offered himself to God the Father, not to Satan, in order to placate the holy indignation of the Triune Godhead against the sins committed against the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice TO GOD.” Ephesians 5:2

“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish TO GOD, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:14

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks TO THE FATHER in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the propitiatory sacrifice who turns aside God’s wrath, taking away our sins (hilasmos), and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2

Christ’s ransom was offered to the Father who received it on behalf of the entire Godhead so that God could then forgive and release sinners from their bondage to the dominion of sin and Satan, without having to compromise his perfect standards of justice and holiness in order to do so:

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again he says, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’ Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement to turn aside God’s wrath, taking away (hilaskesthai) the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:9-18

Christ’s vicarious death demonstrates that God is a perfectly righteous and holy Being who cannot simply overlook sin, since to do so would mean that God is less than completely just:

“God presented Him as a propitiation, as a sacrifice of atonement, in order to turn aside God’s wrath, taking away sin (hilasterion), through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26

This is why the Holy Bible makes it quite clear that God will not simply acquit the guilty for the transgressions that they have committed against him:

“Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.” Exodus 23:7

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’” Exodus 34:6-7

“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Numbers 14:18

“If I sinned, you would be watching me and would not let my offense go unpunished.” Job 10:14

“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.” Nahum 1:3

Christ’s atoning sacrifice accomplishes this by absorbing the punishment that sinners deserve so that God can turn towards those who truly believe and repent in love and compassion.

That this is a perfectly just way for God to handle the problem of sin and forgiveness without compromising his justice and holiness can be seen from the way the Scriptures describe the punishment which man’s rebellion incurs.

The Holy Bible speaks of the wages of sin, or the payment which a person receives for the sins he commits against God:

“The wages (pa'ullat) of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.” Proverbs 10:16

“The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin.” Proverbs 15:6

“‘See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps—both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,’ says the Lord. Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds (wages [pa'ullatam]).” Isaiah 65:6-7

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

That the tem pa'ullat refers to the wages that a person receives for the deeds or actions s/he has committed is easily seen from the way it is used in the following text:

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages (pa'ullat) of a hired worker overnight.” Leviticus 19:13

These examples demonstrate that there are wages which unrepentant sinners shall receive for their rebellious acts, namely, death and eternal destruction:

“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The Holy Bible also refers to sin as a debt that is incurred against God, one which has to be paid by someone:

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts (opheilemata), as we also have forgiven our debtors (opheiletais). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin (paraptomata) against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins (paraptomata), your Father will not forgive your sins (paraptomata).” Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus clearly classifies sins as debts which God in his grace and mercy forgives, a point which he reiterates in the following pericopes:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him (opheiletes) ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed (opheilen) him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe (opheileis) me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt (to opheilomenon). When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt (opheilen) of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (to opheilomenon). This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’” Matthew 18:21-35


“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said. ‘Two people owed money (dyo chreopheiletai) to a certain moneylender. One owed (opheilen) him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’ You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Luke 7:36-50

The Apostle Paul also likens sin to a debt which is imputed or charged to one’s account:

“Likewise, David also speaks of the blessing of the man God credits righteousness to apart from works: How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered! How joyful is the man the Lord will never charge with sin!” Romans 4:6-8

“To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Romans 5:13

Since sin is classified as a debt that is owed to God, one which has to be fully paid, there is absolutely nothing wrong or unjust for someone else volunteering to pay that debt on behalf of another.

This is where the Lord Jesus Christ comes in. He voluntarily accepts the wages which we earned, and pays the debt which we owed, so that God could have a basis to acquit us of all our debts against him, without having to compromise his perfect standards of holiness and righteousness to do so.

In other words, the reason why God does not charge the debts incurred by believers to their own accounts, is because he has charged them to Christ who has gladly accepted to pay them by his sacrificial death on the cross:

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:14-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 New American Standard Version (NASB)

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 ESV

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:25-28 ESV

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Colossians 1:13-23

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, BY canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Colossians 2:13-15 ESV

“and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5-6 ESV

This is similar to what Paul did for a runaway slave named Onesimus:

“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes (opheilei) you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.” Philemon 1:17-19

Paul tells Philemon to charge whatever Onesimus owed him to Paul’s account, who would then be responsible to pay the debt on the latter’s behalf, and exhorts Philemon to receive his runaway slave as he would the blessed Apostle himself.

In a similar manner, Christ made sure to settle our debts before God by having them charged to his account, so that God would be pleased to accept and receive us as he does his own beloved Son.

At the end of the day, what God has done for us at Calvary is simply a profound mystery which cannot be adequately described by our limited experience and minds, since this is dealing with a divine reality that is far beyond the realm of finite creatures to fully comprehend. However, that doesn’t give anyone an excuse to reject this glorious divine truth and majestic demonstration of God’s infinite love for his fallen human creatures solely because there is nothing analogous to it in all creation and is beyond our grasp to completely fathom.

The late C. S. Lewis does a wonderful job of bringing all this out:

“In my view the theories are not themselves the thing you are asked to accept. Many of you no doubt have read Jeans or Eddington. What they do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The pictures are there only to help you to understand the formula. They are not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real thing but only something more or less like it. The thing itself cannot be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same boat here. We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world. And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, of course we are not going to be able to picture this. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be – the inconceivable, uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning. You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

“The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before – the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take 'paying the penalty', not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of 'standing the racket' or 'footing the bill', then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity [HarperSanFrancisco, 2001], 3. The Shocking Alternative, pp. 54-56; bold emphasis ours)

For more on the topic of Jesus’ ransom and to whom it was made, as well as an answer to the rest of Shabir’s objections, we recommend the following articles and rebuttals:

It is now time to turn the tables on Williams and Ally. Please proceed to the second part of our rebuttal.

Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptural quotations were taken from the 2012 edition of the New International Version of the Holy Bible (NIV).