This is due to my dissertation which at some point may be completed or even, one day, started on. This is more of an exercise to put some words down on paper.
The use of the scapegoat image is prevalent in describing Paul’s intention in Galatians 3.10–14; however, to do so leaves us open to the possibility of a God who has sinned, or at the very least, a God who has previously offered a sacrifice for himself before he offered Jesus as the scapegoat.
By using this linguistic pattern the early Christian who formulated the confession quoted in 2 Corinthians 5:21 expressed two convictions: (a) sin is something that can be transferred from one person to another; (b) God transferred our sin to Christ, thus freeing us from its effect.1
Before I tackle this statement outright, let me draw your attention to Leviticus 16.6:
He must offer the bull reserved for his purification-offering and make expiation for himself and his household. (REB)
The “he” in this first is the Aaronic priest. Notice, the priest requires a sacrifice himself to atone for his sins. This is not akin to baptism or any other act we find in the Gospels attributed to Jesus. Or, rather, there is no act recorded in the New Testament whereby Jesus first atoned for his sins before offering himself as a sacrifice. Indeed, there is some contention as to whether Paul thought Jesus sinless (Romans 8.3). But, this doesn’t matter so much as what it would require of God. If Jesus is the sacrifice offered by God, then to have Jesus as a scapegoat would require God to have previously atoned for his own sins.
Unless, of course, we ignore that part because God is sinless. But can we? The priest atoned for his sins in order to transfer the sins to the scapegoat. He could act only as a conduit for a short time because he would soon be sinless. The scapegoat would then take away the sins of all of Israel, including the priest. It was all inclusive. Added to this, Jesus is referred to as our high priest in Hebrews, not God. In John, Jesus is the lamb that removes the sins of the world. But, I’m getting canonical here.
Is there something better to explain the language of Galatians 3.13?
Christ bought us freedom from the curse of the law by coming under the curse for our sake; for scripture says, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a gibbet.’ (REB)
I don’t think we can get the idea of transference here. If we go outside Galatians, even in incorporating 2 Co 5.21, there is plenty of other language to prevent the idea that God transferred our sins (acting as a high priest) to Christ. Yes, Christ took our sins, but he became a curse. He did it.
I don’t think there is one particular image of the death of Christ in Paul, although they all revolve around a sacrifice. I’m not saying that scapegoat (if by this we mean a transference-then-sacrifice) is not one of them. I think we can clearly see that 2 Co. 5.21 is a perfect example of this. However, I don’t think it is what is intended here.
- J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 33A; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 318. ↩