Why Jesus is not a Scapegoat (Leviticus 16.6 is not in Galatians 3.13)

These Cards We're Dealt
These Cards We’re Dealt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Martyn writes,

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.

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.

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14 Replies to “Why Jesus is not a Scapegoat (Leviticus 16.6 is not in Galatians 3.13)”

  1. Hi Joel,

    I’ve been thinking over the very same verses. Galatians 3:13 is based on Deuteronomy 21:22-23,

    22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.”

    What would be the result of a sinless man being cursed? Would he become the receptacle for someone else’s sins? In other words, would it be that Jesus’s being cursed doesn’t mean the same thing as becoming sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), but being cursed would be the cause, and becoming sin would be the effect?

    I don’t think we are supposed to see God as the one who is offering Jesus as a sacrifice. I think we are supposed to see either the priests or the Romans as offerring Jesus as a sacrifice.

    If Azazel (Leviticus 16:8, 16) refers to a demon, then perhaps that would strengthen the interpretation of “rulers of this age” in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 as refering to demonic beings.

    “6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

    Could it be that the “hidden wisdom of God” that the demons did not understand was that by crucifying Jesus, they made him a curse, which caused him to become the receptacle for the sins of the world? By taking away our sins, did Jesus remove whatever legal claim Satan might have had on us? Thus, by trying to curse Jesus by having him hung on a tree, did Satan accomplish just the opposite of what he desired?

    If so, that was a rather clever gambit by God.

    1. But, if the priests/romans were offering Jesus, then this presents all sorts of problems. Plus, let me add something someone called my attention to on Facebook. The scapegoat was never killed. Did you see my post on my particular view on this?

  2. Rather obviously, Scripture is open to diverse interpretations. Then, that’s what makes religion fun to watch – provided of course the zealots aren’t after your head! .

  3. Hi Joel,

    Right, the scapegoat is not killed. It’s sent into the wilderness, to Azazel, whatever or whoever that is. Let’s assume that Azazel is another name for Satan (one of the many theories). In that case it would look like sinful souls belong to Satan. By placing the sins on the scapegoat and sending it to Azazel, the people are cleansed of sin and don’t belong to him for another year.

    The high priest is the one who hands the goat over to Azazel, so to speak. In that case, to maintain the parallel, Rome would need to be the physical representative of Azazel (or Satan). By crucifying Jesus, Rome (Satan) is attempting to use the Mosaic Law to curse Jesus, by hanging him on a tree. But it backfires, and frees the world of sin.

    Under this slightly revised scenario, the “rulers of this age” refers both to the demonic rulers and to their physical representatives, resolving the conflicting interpretations of Paul’s cryptic term.

    Of course, someone would need to explain why sinful souls belong to Azazel.

  4. If, for Paul et al, there was any typological significance in the timing of Jesus’ death, then a Jesus-as-scapegoat (or Jesus-as-sin-sacrifice) theory would have expected the Passion to happen in the Fall. Jesus was crucified at Passover, and the Passover sacrifice is not a sin sacrifice. It is a deliverance-from-death sacrifice. (Just one more reason everyone should read Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor.)

  5. The New Testament refers to Jesus’ sacrfice using a few different images from Israel’s sacrificial system: The Paschal Lamb and the Sin Offering referred to Hebrews (and I believe in Romans) come to mind. My guess is that no one image of the sacrifice completely captures what Jesus’ sacrfice is all about. I’m just arguing that one can make a case for the Scapegoat being a legitimate image that we can use, also.

  6. Watts has it backwards, reversed. The sin of Jesus Christ’s murder was increased by a word being added to the law after his ascension. ROM. 5:20 The sin of his murder became an accountable sin by a change of the law.
    ™For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. ROM. 2:13

  7. Yeah. Do what. There is not any other Way possible for any individual to be declared righteous by God other than confessing directly to him that you are truly sorry his only begotten son was murdered when he was crucified. There are no exceptions.

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