Thursday, April 16, 2009

Worthy is the scape-goat: John Owen on Christ's sin-bearing death

The paining is by Holman Hunt and is exhibited in the Lady Lever Art Gallery (just thirty minutes from our home). Two texts are inscribed on the frame. They are:

'Surely he hath borne our Griefs, and carried our Sorrows. Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD, and afflicted.' (Isaiah LIII, 4)

'And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.' (Leviticus XVI, 22)

This inter-canonical connection would no doubt have pleased John Owen.

The following is from John Owen's Vindicae Evangelicae:

For a man to "bear his iniquity," is, constantly, for him to answer for the guilt and undergo the punishment due to it. (455)

He set us an example in his obedience but he was not punished for an example (442)

As the high priest confessed all the sins, iniquities, and transgressions of the people, and laid them on the head of the scape-goat, which he bare, undergoing the utmost punishment he was capable of, and that punishment which, in the general kind and nature, is the punishment due to sin,--an evil and violent death; so did God lay all the sins, all the punishment due to them, really upon one that was fit, able, and appointed to bear it, which he suffered under to the utmost that the justice of God required on that account.

He took a view of all our sins and iniquities. He knew what was past and what was to come, knowing all our thoughts afar off. Not the least error of our minds, darkness of our understandings, perverseness of our wills, carnality of our affections, sin of our natures or lives, escaped him. (447-8)

Christ looked on the church [MD: in the OT] through the window of the promise and the lattice of the Levitical ceremonies. (450)

And the "surety" of the covenant is he also...such a surety as paid that which he never took, made satisfaction for those sins which he never did...being made liable to them, he was punished for them. (449)


Nick said...


I am opposed to Penal Substitution because I don't believe it fits Scripture. For example, I often see people quoting texts like Is 53:4, but the fact is Matt 8:16f quotes this very verse and it has nothing P-sub about it.

As for the scapegoat, the most astonishing thing happens in Leviticus 16: rather than kill this animal, it is sent off in the wilderness. There is nothing about killing the goat. That is certainly not what one would expect with Psub.

Martin Downes said...


The one sin offering involves the killing of one goat and the bearing of sin by another that is sent to a remote place (a land of cutting off). There is one sin offering but two animals.

Both goats deal with sin in spacial categories, the one dealing with the holy place and the other bearing sin away to a remote place. The scape-goat isn't sent to a lush pasture but to a land of cutting off where it will die.

To bear sin is to bear its punishment, this the animal will do vicariously. The sins of the people are confessed over it and the goat bears their sins instead of them.

I do not wish to be rude to you but your objection at this point is superficial.

Nick said...


The scapegoat is the only animal who has sins confessed over it, so I don't see how it can be "one sin offering," but rather two distinct offerings.

The scapegoat is sent into the wilderness with no mention of death/killing, that's my point. It is hard to accept a vicarious punishment in this case when it is kept alive the whole time and only dies on it's own time.

I was a bit more concerned with your quoting of Is 53:4, and how I pointed out it is quoted in Mat 8:16f but has nothing P-Sub about it.

Thanks for your time.