Versión en EspañolContentsAlleged DiscrepanciesArticle ReprintsAudio ResourcesBible BulletsDarwin Day DebateDecisive DesignsE-Books“In the News”Reason & RevelationResearch ArticlesScripturally SpeakingSensible ScienceResourcesDiscovery for KidsExamine the EvidenceHome Study CoursesFeedbackEBGlobalA.P. InformationAbout APContact APCopyright StatementHelp APPrivacy StatementSpeaking SchedulesA.P. Scientists and Auxiliary WritersUsage Guidelines
Simon Blackburn is a professor of metaphysics, ethics, and philosophy of mind and language at the University of Cambridge and at the University of North Carolina (“Simon Blackburn,” 2008; “Simon Blackburn,” 2010). He edited the scholarly journal Mind from 1984 to 1990, and his influence has been widened by his production of popular works about philosophical topics. One of these is his book Being Good (2001), a text regularly encountered by undergraduates in introductory ethics classes. In Being Good, Blackburn levels a number of attacks at Christianity, most of which we have dealt with previously (see Colley, 2010).
In Being Good, Blackburn alleges that God was unjust when He punished Jesus for the sins of humanity: “[T]he overall story of ‘atonement’ and ‘redemption’ is morally dubious, suggesting as it does that justice can be satisfied by the sacrifice of an innocent for the sins of the guilty—the doctrine of the scapegoat” (p. 12). This is all Blackburn wrote on the subject (at least in Being Good). In context, Blackburn’s point is that, because the use of a scapegoat is morally unacceptable, and biblical morality allowed Christ to be used as a scapegoat, then the Bible is unacceptable as an ethical guide. Atheistic writer Christopher Hitchens has echoed this sentiment: “We cannot, like fear-ridden peasants of antiquity, hope to load all our crimes onto a goat.... Our everyday idiom is quite sound in regarding ‘scapegoating’ with contempt. And religion is scapegoating writ large” (2007, p. 211).
THE SCAPEGOAT IN THE BIBLE
The scapegoat concept will be familiar to students of the Old Testament. The only mention of the scapegoat is in the passage about the institution of the Day of Atonement in the Mosaic Law:
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.... And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:7-10, 20-22).
The word translated “scapegoat” in the Leviticus text literally means “for Azazel.” The meaning of Azazel is obscure; it seems to refer to the sending away of the goat (see Möller, 1929, 1:342-343).
Observe several points about the scapegoat in Leviticus (adapted from Ryken, et al., 1998, pp. 763-764): (1) The goat was not a sacrifice to God. Only a perfect animal could be sacrificed to Him on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 1:10). (2) The discharge of sin by means of the scapegoat was possible only because God arranged it. (3) There were further special circumstances surrounding the use of the scapegoat. It was not as if the people could indiscriminately kill goats to get rid of sin. (4) God Himself chose the scapegoat. In sum, God was in charge of the whole process.
The Bible writers never designated Christ as God’s scapegoat per se. Yet, the vivid imagery of the scapegoat, in combination with the New Testament record of the death of Christ and the resulting atonement, does suggest a metaphorical connection between the Levitical offering of the scapegoat and the crucifixion as an example of foreshadowing, or a type/antitype relationship.
The motif of a creature chosen by God carrying the sins of the people out of an inhabited place to face God’s judgment reappears several times in the [New Testament].... Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins (Heb 10:1-18), an offering to God and not “for Azazel.” Yet John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29), and in Hebrews 13:12-13 the point is stressed that Jesus was crucified outside the city.... [T]he disposal of sin is considered as an almost physical process: sin is loaded onto Jesus; he is driven out of town and given over to God’s curse (Gal 3:13). His death is a rightful consequence of our sinning (Rom 6:23). Thus some aspects of the ultimate justification by Christ are foreshadowed in the scapegoat ritual (Ryken, et al., p. 764, parenthetical items in orig.).
[D]o you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death.... [O]ur old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.... [R]eckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:3-4,6-8,11).
We are happy to grant permission for items in the "Scripturally Speaking" section to be reproduced in their entirety, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) the authors name must remain attached to the materials; (4) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (5) alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, quotations, etc. must be reproduced exactly as they appear in the original); (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, in whole or in part, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken.
For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558