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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Does the Bible say Jesus was our Scapegoat? (More Problems with Penal Substitution)

In a recent post where I discussed the Mercy Seat as it relates to Romans 3:25, a Calvinist named Michael objected by saying that I had neglected to address the Scapegoat of Leviticus 16. Because this is an important enough issue, I decided to make a post addressing the Scapegoat, especially because it's one of the (few) Biblical examples that comes anywhere close to teaching the erroneous Protestant doctrine of Penal Substitution. 

Thought the Bible gives only a few details about the Scapegoat, I will take a look at them and examine whether they give evidence of Penal Substitution or not. 

The Hebrew term for what we call the "scapegoat" is Azazel. What does Azazel mean? The ESV says in the footnote for Leviticus 16:8, "The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat." The hardest part about discerning the true meaning is that this term only appears 3 times in the Bible, and only in Leviticus 16, so there isn't much to go on. I'll look now at the three possible options.

Apparently two Church Fathers and the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch identified Azazel as either a demon or Satan. The fact the Bible nowhere makes this identification with a demon or Satan makes this the least likely meaning, in my opinion. The closest proof I've see is that in Leviticus 16:8, it says: "Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel." The claim is that one goat is "for the Lord" and the other goat is for something else, which is not the Lord. This can come off as saying something along the lines of "one for Yahweh, the other for Satan." Another possible supporting text is Leviticus 17:7, in which God forbids the Israelites from going back to their idolatrous sacrifices "to goat demons, after whom they [used to] whore." This isn't to suggest the Azazel was a sacrifice to Satan, but rather the goat was to carry the sin back where it belongs. 

The Talmudic/Rabbinical Jewish view is that Azazel means "rugged mountain cliff," from which the goat was pushed off of as part of the ceremony. They say this ties into the "remote area" mentioned in Leviticus 16:22, which I'll get to later. 

The traditional term of "scapegoat" is said to derive directly from the term Azazel, being a compound term meaning "goat" and "sending away". Many assume "scapegoat" refers to "something innocent that takes the blame," but the term itself doesn't imply that, only a "goat of sending away."

Of these three options, I'd say "scapegoat" is the most plausible, for reasons I'll get into next. I think the Rabbinical understanding has some merit, but as I'll show later I don't think the text supports the view the goat is pushed off a cliff. As for the Azazel as a demon view, I consider it the weakest, especially since it isn't derived from the term itself nor does it find support in the ritual's description. 

What kind of sacrifice was this? Leviticus 16:5 says that the High Priest shall "take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering." This would imply either that each of them is a sin offering, or that the sin offering consists in both aspects of the two goats. And the only other detail given doesn't seem to help much: "Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness" (Lev 16:9-10). This text seems to limit the "sin offering" only to the first goat, but it does ascribe "making atonement" to the role of the scapegoat. Either way, I'm convinced that both the sin offering and the notion of atonement didn't involve Penal Substitution, so assigning "sin offering" or "atonement" to the scapegoat suggests it wasn't modeling this either (see below for more on this).

What happened to the scapegoat? The only details given are as follows: 
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Lev 16:21-22)
This is the only time in the Bible that I know of where sins are said to be placed upon another. Though there is talk of placing hands on the head of sacrifices, there is no mention of this involving the (symbolic) transfer of guilt, nor does this even make sense in regards to sacrifices not involving sin (Lev 3:1-2). The main question here though is whether the scapegoat is taking the punishment for this 'transferred sin' or if something else is happening. Obviously this is very pertinent to the Penal Substitution question. 

I have always pointed out that the scapegoat is described as being kept alive, not killed. If Penal Substitution were the lesson here, then we'd expect to see the scapegoat having the guilt transferred and then immediately receive the 'death penalty' in place of the people. So keeping the goat alive is obviously a serious blow against the Penal Substitution thesis. 

Some respond to this claim by arguing that the "sending off into the wilderness" is in itself the punishment, the very punishment of being "cut off" (Hebrew: karath) from community which the Torah warns can happen to people for certain serious sins (Ex 12:19; 30:31-33; Lev 7:20-21, 25-27; 17:8-10; 18:29-30; Num 15:29-31). But the truth is, the Hebrew term here for "wilderness" refers to wilderness in a generic sense, implying neither anything good nor bad. And while the phrase "to a remote area" (Hebrew: gezerah, a "separate place") carries a connotation of being a barren area, this term is not etymologically related to the "cut off" (karath) term mentioned above, so there really isn't a direct connection between a sinner being "cut off" from the tribe and the goat being "sent to a barren wilderness." 

As somewhat of a side-note, I don't think the notion of being "cut off" necessarily carries with it the notion of death sentence, because the Torah distinguishes those sins which "cut off" versus those sins by which a sinner "must be put to death" (Ex 21:15-17; 21:17; 21:29; 22:19; 31:14; Lev 20:2; 20:9-16). Thus, even if one argued that the scapegoat was "cut off" in the sense of karath, that doesn't necessarily entail the death penalty but only exclusion from the Old Covenant.

So in conclusion to that, I interpret the function of the goat to simply 'take away' the filthy sin to a remote area, similar to how a garbage truck carries away the trash to a remote area. There is no implication the goat was somehow receiving the punishment of being sent out to starve to death or being shoved off a cliff. The fate of the goat is outside the scope of the sending-off event

I think my conclusion is confirmed by two other details in the chapter. First, the instructions given state that after the High Priest has put his hands on the scapegoat, he shall go bathe, and the text continues with the same instructions for the servant: "he who lets the goat go shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp" (Lev 16:26). This suggests the "filth" associated with the scapegoat required ritual purification, and thus sending out the goat was like taking out the trash. Second, as I noted in my prior post, the purpose of the Day of Atonement is given at the end of the chapter: "On this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

Does the scapegoat prefigure Jesus? To my knowledge, Jesus is never clearly linked to the scapegoat in the New Testament. He's associated with the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), the sin offering goat of the Day of Atonement (Heb 13:11-12), as well as to some references to sacrificial bulls and such, but (to my knowledge) never is He associated with the scapegoat. 

If Azazel refers to demon or Satan, then obviously Jesus wouldn't be prefigured in it. But since I don't think that's the best understanding of Azazel, I would have to conclude Jesus is prefigured by the scapegoat. Given what I've said above, this is simply to be understood as Jesus 'carrying away' our sins, similar to how Matthew 8:16-17 quotes Isaiah 53:4 and interprets Jesus' 'bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows' simply as Jesus healing them. There's no need to read this as our guilt being imputed to Jesus and He taking the punishment. 

And while the scapegoat is said to be "bearing sin," this doesn't suggest "bearing guilt," as I've shown elsewhere that this phrase refers to being put in charge of making atonement for sin, particularly when the High Priest is said to "bear the sins of the people, to make atonement for them." In fact, as Michael rightly noted, the phrase "bear sin" in Hebrew (nasa avon) can often refer to taking away sin in the sense of forgiving it, as texts like the following prove: Ex 34:7; Num 14:18; Ps 32:5; 85:2; Is 33:24; Hos 14:2; Mic 7:18. So the "bearing sin" of the scapegoat can simply refer to the taking away in the sense of forgiving the sin. 

Finally, I came across a very cool apparent parallel text that I believe vindicates this interpretation of the scapegoat. Leviticus 14 addresses how to cleans and make atonement for people and houses with leprosy, and uses many of the same terms as Leviticus 16, including some terms that only appear in these two chapters. Consider the following parallels from Leviticus 14:1-8 and Leviticus 14:49-53 when compared to Leviticus 16: speaks of "two birds," only one of which is killed and the blood sprinkled seven times to result in cleansing and atonement. The bird that was kept alive is set free, completing the whole process: "So he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean" (Lev 14:53). This corresponds to the two goats of Leviticus 16, one which is killed and has it's blood sprinkled seven times, the other goat which is set free, with the result being a cleansing and atonement: "For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you" (Lev 16:30). On top of that, the leper who is cleansed must take a bath to be readmitted back into the camp, and this corresponds to the servant who must bathe after handling the scapegoat so as to be readmitted back into the camp. The parallels are too unique to be coincidence. As it is clear that releasing the living bird to wild is not concerned about sending it to its death, the same conclusion should hold true for the scapegoat.

20 comments:

Michael Taylor said...

Nick,

You can read my response to your take on the scapegoat and other things in Leviticus here:

http://fallibility.blogspot.ca/2013/07/a-reply-to-catholic-dude-on-leviticus.html

Daniel said...

Psub scapegoat: Briar Rabbit in the briar patch...

Nick said...

Michael,

You made an interesting point that I think strongly undermines PSub. You said:

"Do both goats receive punishment otherwise due to someone else? Yes they do. The first goat is immediately killed so that the priest and people will not have to die. The second goat is banished to an inhospitable place where it will eventually die, so that the people will not have to bear their own sins and die as a result of them."

So both goats receive, in two separate ceremonies, the imputation of the same guilt and the death penalty the people deserved. That's double jeopardy by definition!


As for the heart of the Scapegoat issue, I've shown that there is nothing in the context or the terms that *demand* the scapegoat was being "cut off" in the sense of punishment. All the Protestant can really do is assume here, and that's not good enough nor is it exegesis.

At the very least, you've got to realize that surely for such a crucial doctrine there would be some very clear proof texts. The idea that one has to cling to less-than-clear texts suggests the doctrine has very weak (if not effectively non-existent) Biblical support.

Nick said...

Later in your post you said:
"I simply have to disagree with his interpretation of Matthew’s use of Isaiah 52:4. For the mere fact that Matthew applies an “atonement” text to a “healing” situation in no way rules out PSA; rather it may very well presuppose it."

There you go again with your "may very well presuppose it" type language. It's not fair nor right to play the "presuppose" card whenever a text is presented.


You also asked:
"Does it even make any sense to say that the goat bears the sins of the people, but not the guilt of those sins?"

Yes, because bearing sin doesn't automatically mean bearing guilt. The proof of that is that the High Priest bears the sin of the people, but the context shows that the High Priest isn't bearing their guilt. In other words, the High Priest in "bearing their sin" doesn't equate to the High Priest becoming guilty of their sins. So the goat bearing sins need not equate to bearing their guilt.


In regards to the parallel of Leviticus 14, you said:
"That God would use similar terminology and procedures for making atonement makes perfect sense."

Which naturally causes one to ask, if atonement is being made in both situations (Ch14 & Ch16), and one of those situations clearly doesn't involve PSub (Ch14), then why should the other (Ch16)? The language parallels are so unique that they don't appear anywhere else in the Bible except these chapters.

Michael Taylor said...

Nick,

You said>>So both goats receive, in two separate ceremonies, the imputation of the same guilt and the death penalty the people deserved. That's double jeopardy by definition!<<

Nah. Look at it this way: The two rituals are of a piece. (You keep overlooking the fact that either goat could have been used in either ritual since the only determining difference was which way the lot fell.) Now step back and look at the entire purpose of that one Day of Atonement. it was to make atonement so that Israel could be reconciled to God. Both goats had a role to play in that regard. You can't separate the two. Each goat, therefore, illustrates a different aspect of PSA. The first goat emphasizes the necessity of obtaining blood through death (rather than blood letting). The second goat illustrates the need for an innocent substitute that can bear sin and guilt of the people.

You'll notice in Leviticus 16 that multiple animals die that day, and yet there's no "double jeopardy" issue because every animal (goats, bulls, whatever) are all part of the process.

Now compare your rather anemic attempt at using the double-jeopardy objection against us, versus your **huge** problem. You have Christ bearing the sins of everyone who will ever exists, probably most of whom will go to hell and have to bear their own sins eternally anyway. That's a classic case of double-jeopardy because you have God laying on his son the very same sins he's going to make those in hell pay for anyway.

Then there's your doctrine of purgatory which amounts to the same problem. For here even the believer has to make atonement for aspects of his own sin.

Frankly, I can deal with the comparatively smaller problem of two goats receiving punishment for the same sins. You, on the other hand, have to explain why Christ suffers *at all* if everyone, including the elect are going to end up suffering anyway in an expiatory fashion.


Nick>>As for the heart of the Scapegoat issue, I've shown that there is nothing in the context or the terms that *demand* the scapegoat was being "cut off" in the sense of punishment. <<

No, you haven't. All you have done is posited your garbage dumb theory. But you really haven't paid attention to the details. Why in the world did the priest confess the sins of Israel over the second goat and then "put them" upon the second goat? And there's your **laughable** suggestion that the goat only bore away the sins themselves, but not the guilt of those sins. Suggesting something and proving something are two different things, Nick. Unfortunately that suggestion isn't even remotely plausible.

Nick>>At the very least, you've got to realize that surely for such a crucial doctrine there would be some very clear proof texts. The idea that one has to cling to less-than-clear texts suggests the doctrine has very weak (if not effectively non-existent) Biblical support. <<

There are clear texts and Leviticus 16 is one of them. Since you were talking about the second goat, I confined my remarks more or less to that topic. That's not to say there aren't other texts that prove PSA. There are plenty, both OT and NT.

Michael Taylor said...

Nick>>There you go again with your "may very well presuppose it" type language.<<

But I didn't leave it at that. I gave reasons for why Psub in in the background and how a Psub framework assumes a harmony between Christ's active and passive obedience. So we should expect to see in Christ's earthly ministry (such as in his healings and excorcisms) similar effects as we see flowing from his cross. Therefore "bearing our infirmities" is not to be confined to his healings and exorcisms. Nor is it to be confined to the cross. It both/and, not either/or.

>>Yes, because bearing sin doesn't automatically mean bearing guilt.<<

Yes it does. Thats what "nasha avon" means. "Avon" can just as easily refer to the guilt of iniquity as the iniquity itself. Check your lexical sources and compare those to several English translations. "Guilt" is frequently used in some places other translations prefers "iniquity." They are for all intents and purposes interchangeable terms. This is especially the case in this context where the the sins have not only been confessed, but also placed upon the goat.

Nick>>The proof of that is that the High Priest bears the sin of the people, but the context shows that the High Priest isn't bearing their guilt. In other words, the High Priest in "bearing their sin" doesn't equate to the High Priest becoming guilty of their sins.<<

You're pulling a fast one there. When the high priest bears the iniquity of the people he is bearing their guilt because guilt and iniquity are the same thing. The claim, however, has never been that the priest "becomes" iniquity or guilt himself.

If there is an exception to that, it would be Christ who "became sin" for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Only Christ can both offer sacrifice (as a priest) and be the sacrifice (as a victim) *at the same time.* All the OT images of sacrifice only point vaguely to this truth. But seen in light of the NT, we can now see more clearly how the entire sacrificial system was pointing toward and anticipating Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice of himself.

>>Which naturally causes one to ask, if atonement is being made in both situations (Ch14 & Ch16), and one of those situations clearly doesn't involve PSub (Ch14), then why should the other (Ch16)? The language parallels are so unique that they don't appear anywhere else in the Bible except these chapters.<<

Asked and answered. I can only refer you back to my article to show you just how you're comparing apples to oranges. If I wasn't clear enough in my article, I don't think I can be in a com box.

James Jordan said...

Somewhere at the bottom of this rabbit trail somebody will come across passages like Micah 6:7-8 and Hosea 14:1-2 and figure out how the prophets said sacrifice is NOT necessary, which makes the whole theory of Jesus' sacrifice being necessary at all fall completely apart. It melts in the OLD testament, not in the New. You cannot sustain from the Old Testament the idea that a sacrifice is absolutely necessary, or as Hebrews puts its that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" -- the OT as a whole does not teach this. There are so many passages in Psalms and the prophets that deny it. And appealing to that passage in Leviticus 17 "the blood is given to make atonement" will not fly, because it only says the blood is given to make atonement but not that it is the only way! At the bottom of the whole problem with Penal Substitution is the fact that no sacrifice was needed at all according to the Old Testament -- that's also why the Jews don't buy into Christianity. Its not just that Jesus doesn't fulfill all the requirements to be the Messiah -- that's a small thing -- the bigger thing is no sacrifice is strictly required for God to forgive, so ALL the Christian atonement theories are abject failures.

Nick said...

Michael,

You said:
"Each goat, therefore, illustrates a different aspect of PSA. The first goat emphasizes the necessity of obtaining blood through death (rather than blood letting). The second goat illustrates the need for an innocent substitute that can bear sin and guilt of the people."

So the FIRST goat is NOT bearing the guilt of the people? Only the SECOND goat bears the guilt? If that's what you're saying, then the first goat was not slain in the sense of substitution, because it wasn't bearing any guilt.

I'm making a simple, logical observation. If guilt is lifted off of the people and put on one goat, then it makes little sense to suggest it was later on put on a second goat also. The imagery/lesson would be lost on the people. They would see the same guilt punished twice.


You also said:
"That's not to say there aren't other texts that prove PSA. There are plenty, both OT and NT."

Then name them. Name a few clear examples of PSA in both the OT and NT.

Michael Taylor said...

Nick>>So the FIRST goat is NOT bearing the guilt of the people? Only the SECOND goat bears the guilt? If that's what you're saying, then the first goat was not slain in the sense of substitution, because it wasn't bearing any guilt. <<

The first goat is also a penal substitute in that it dies instead of the people, in the same way the bull dies instead of the high priest. Keep in mind the purpose for the animal's blood in the first place. It was to protect the priest from the holiness of God, which would have been expressed in wrathful consummation of an *unauthorized* entry into the holy of holies. In other words, God, through Moses, told Arron what to do in order to avoid the same fate of his sons. If you can't see penal substitution there, then I think you're trying hard not to see it.

Michael Taylor said...


Nick>>Then name them. Name a few clear examples of PSA in both the OT and NT.<<

I'd invite you over to my blog. I have two recent articles on Isaiah 53 and the seven NT quotations of Isaiah 53. The second article presupposes that you have read the first.

I also have articles on Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9-10. I'm in the process of writing more articles on specific NT passages that state or imply PSA.

Nick said...

"The first goat is also a penal substitute in that it dies instead of the people"

The first goat cannot be a penal substitute if it's not bearing guilt. Such a thing is impossible by definition:

substitute = imputed guilt
penal = receives specific punishment the guilt demands

That's why I asked you to clarify if the first goat bears guilt or not.

James Jordan said...

The problem is blood sacrifice altogether, especially of the human variety: its paganism, pure and simple. You're both Pagans, so what is there to argue about?

James Jordan said...

You might as well argue about whether Mithras saved your soul by penal atonement of Mithras Victor. Because all human sacrifice is garbage and an abomination to God.

Nick said...

James,

You cannot go to the opposite extreme and say "blood sacrifice ALTOGETHER" because that's a mockery of Leviticus. If Sacrifice is Pagan, then Leviticus is pagan. That's why I focus on the fact the blood sacrifice wasn't PSA, because then I don't have to be in the dilemma you point out. The modern day problem I see the Jews faced with is that they've basically not had Levitical Sacrifices for so long that to save face they've reduced the notion of sacrifice to irrelevance in a misuse of the text 'obedience is better than sacrifice'. Of course obedience is better than sacrifice, but even at the end of Psalm 51 David was eager to sacrifice bulls on the altar.

James Jordan said...

The prophets treat the sacrifices as if they were never important, and I'd rather side with them: the sacrifices were busy work -- they were never absolutely necessary to atonement. That's what I mean by "blood sacrifice ALTOGETHER" -- if you want to follow Leviticus and sacrifice goats, more power to you. But please recognize that there is no necessity of blood sacrifice for atonement, and that's where Christianity goes wrong, claiming its absolutely necessary.

Nick said...

James,

The prophets would NEVER say the sacrifices were unimportant. It was humiliation to them when they couldn't practice the Torah in it's fullness, including when the Temple was torn down. The Temple was rebuilt precisely to signify God wanted things up and running again, including for the arrival of the Messiah.

Catholics don't believe atonement is 'absolutely necessary'; that's what Protestants believe. For Catholics, God could have just forgiven man upon their repenting. The Cross brought about a lot more benefits than just outright forgiving, such as being a visible sign of how much God loved us. For example, it's one thing to just forgive someone, but if that person can see just what damage sin does, they'll appreciate the forgiveness and be less inclined to sin again.

James Jordan said...

"Catholics don't believe atonement is 'absolutely necessary';"

Then all those generations of Jew-haters are self-condemned for pretending they did believe it.

"The Cross brought about a lot more benefits than just outright forgiving, such as being a visible sign of how much God loved us."

The problem with that, of course, is the cross ceases to be a sign of how much God loves us if it is not necessary for our forgiveness. In that case, its just cosmic child abuse.

At some point we just have to admit that Jesus himself was caught off guard by the cross. That it wasn't planned. That Jesus just got killed. And there is no grand cosmic significance to it. And none was attached to it at all until after Paul. Until Paul only the resurrection had significance, the cross zero. Then Paul came and Mithraised Christianity to make it easier to bring Pagans in, and the cross was made the be-all-end-all of everything.

Nick said...

You cannot call the Cross "cosmic child abuse" for Catholics because we don't believe Jesus was being punished by the Father. Jesus was murdered just as the other prophets were murdered by the Jews, and it was these self-sacrificing of their lives that gave glory to God. In the case of Jesus, it was the most exemplary *martyrdom* ever, and this was meritorious in God's sight.

James, your real problem is that you're confusing the standard Protestant view of the Cross with the Catholic view. You don't understand the Hebrew word "Atonement," which has nothing to do with punishing or transferring guilt/punishment to another.

James Jordan said...

Your view might work, if it weren't for the doctrine that Jesus knew it was coming, and that it was predetermined from the foundation of the world (i.e. in the Apocalypse). These doctrines, which we are stuck with due to the canon, bring the cross tumbling down. If God predetermined for his Son to die in this way, rather that it just working out that way, its still cosmic child abuse whether you use the term punishment or not.

newenglandsun said...

This was an intriguing post. Jesus was more associated with the sin offering goat as opposed to the scapegoat which means that the sin offering goat was sacrificed in order to free people of their sins as the scapegoat was representative of the people being freed from their transgressions.