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The Ellen White Research Project: Exposing the Subtle Attack on the Bible's Authority
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"Contradiction #28: Satan Bears Our Sins"


Robert K. Sanders alleges that Ellen White contradicts the Bible more than 50 times. The following is #28 from the revision of his document dated June 2002.


EGW: SATAN "It was seen, also, that while the sin offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the high priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scapegoat typified Satan, the author of sin, upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed. ... Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, ... so Satan, ... will at last suffer the full penalty of sin" (Great Controversy, p. 422, 485, 486).

 BIBLE: JESUS "He himself (Jesus Christ) bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

The scapegoat in the wilderness, by William Holman Hunt.—www.victorianweb.org.
Initial Observations

The first thing we notice is that the Bible verse Sanders gives, though talking about the cross, does not use the word "scapegoat." Might there be another verse that Sanders could use that would explicitly say that the scapegoat is Christ? We honestly don't know of one.

The quotations from Ellen White as given by Sanders do not say anything about Satan "bearing" anyone's sins. Though her paragraph does use the word "bearing" twice, Sanders doesn't quote that part, which seems odd. If Sanders had quoted the entire paragraph, he might have made a stronger case.


It appears that Sanders objects to anyone other than Christ paying a price for someone else's sins. At first glance, this appears quite biblical:

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (Ezek. 18:20)

Thus, the sinner pays for his own sins, not for someone else's. That's the rule. Yet there do appear to be some specific exceptions to this rule:

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezek. 33:8)

In some sort of way, a messenger of God becomes responsible for another's sins, and thus will pay for them, if he neglects to warn the wicked of his approaching doom. This idea is actually brought out in the Mosaic code:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, that thou bear not sin for him. (Lev. 19:17; margin)

The high priest places the sins on the scapegoat.—Davis Collection
Is it really true that one who does not warn his neighbor becomes guilty of his sin? Is the marginal reading, "bear not sin for him," correct? According to the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is indeed the correct way to translate this verse. The following translations also agree with the marginal reading:

  • American Standard Version ("and not bear sin because of him")
  • Amplified Bible ("lest you incur sin because of him")
  • Darby Version ("lest thou bear sin on account of him")
  • Douay Rehims Version ("lest thou incur sin through him")
  • English Revised Version ("and not bear sin because of him")
  • English Standard Version ("lest you incur sin because of him")
  • God's Word to the Nations ("so that you will not be guilty of sinning along with him")
  • Jewish Publication Society Old Testament ("and not bear sin because of him")
  • Jerusalem Bible ("this way you will not take a sin upon yourself")
  • Leeser Old Testament ("and not bear sin on account of him")
  • New American Standard Bible ("but shall not incur sin because of him")
  • New International Version ("so you will not share in his guilt")
  • New King James Version ("and not bear sin because of him")
  • New Living Translation ("so you will not be held guilty for their crimes")
  • Revised Standard Version ("lest you bear sin because of him")

Thus, when someone fails to warn someone else about their sins, he becomes guilty of those same deeds, and must pay for them. In human courts of law, others than the perpetrators of a crime are at times found guilty too, and are punished for deeds they knew about but never did. It should then not surprise us if God's justice likewise demands some sort of accountability and punishment for those who knew but kept silent.

Yet here is a key point: While such individuals must pay the price for the sin or crime of another, the price they pay does not make them a savior or substitute for the actual perpetrator. It is only the price paid by a guiltless substitute that can buy one's pardon. Thus, even if Satan at some point in the future does bear the sins of others, he, the guiltiest of all, can never be a savior or a substitute. Only Christ the Guiltless One can fill that role.

At this point, we haven't found how Satan being punished for the sins of others contradicts Scripture, since as we have just seen, there are occasions where one sinner becomes guilty for the sins of another sinner.

Further Analysis

The "Only Sin Bearer"

If we examine other parts of Ellen White's writings, we find a possible discrepancy in Sanders' argument. While Ellen White was convinced that the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement services represented Satan, she also wrote repeatedly that Christ is our "only sin bearer":

In His intercession as our advocate, Christ needs no man's virtue, no man's intercession. He is the only sin-bearer, the only sin-offering.—Signs of the Times, June 28, 1899.

How hard poor mortals strive to be sin-bearers for themselves and for others! but the only sin-bearer is Jesus Christ. He alone can be my substitute and sin-bearer. The forerunner of Christ exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."—Review and Herald, June 9, 1896.

Proclaim remission of sins through Christ, the only Sin-bearer, the only Sin-pardoner. Proclaim the remission of sins through repentance toward God and faith in Christ, and God will ratify your testimony.—The Voice in Speech and Song, p. 340.

Thus, while Ellen White believed that Satan as the scapegoat would bear the guilt of the sins of the redeemed at the very end of time, and would be punished for them, she did not believe that that made Satan our sin bearer or sin offering or savior or substitute.

Frankly, whether we like it or not, we have to admit that this detail of Ellen White's teaching agrees with what we discovered in Leviticus 19:17. There are occasions when one must pay for the sins of others, but that does not turn one into a savior or substitute.

The Entire Paragraph

If Ellen White did not believe that Satan is our savior, what was she saying in the passages Sanders found so objectionable? Let's take a look at the entire paragraph that Sanders gets most of what he objects to from:

In the typical service the high priest, having made the atonement for Israel, came forth and blessed the congregation. So Christ, at the close of His work as mediator, will appear, "without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28), to bless His waiting people with eternal life. As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, so Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, the originator and instigator of sin. The scapegoat, bearing the sins of Israel, was sent away "unto a land not inhabited" (Leviticus 16:22); so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins which he has caused God's people to commit, will be for a thousand years confined to the earth, which will then be desolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer the full penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked. Thus the great plan of redemption will reach its accomplishment in the final eradication of sin and the deliverance of all who have been willing to renounce evil.—Great Controversy, pp. 485, 486, bold added.

Notice how Ellen White said that Christ our High Priest is the one that carries or bears our sins, and that in this capacity He places them on Satan at the very end of time. Thus, once again we see that she is careful to identify Christ as being our High Priest, our Sin Bearer, and our Savior.

When Do the Sins Get Placed on the Scapegoat?

But is the idea that Christ as our Sin Bearer will one day place sins on Satan biblical? Let's take a look now at the Bible verses Ellen White claimed should be interpreted in this way:

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat [the Hebrew reads "for Azazel"]. (Lev. 16:8)

And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:20-22)

Notice that the goat for Azazel, the name of a fallen angel in the Book of Enoch, has the sins put upon him only after the high priest has "made an end of reconciling." Since the Hebrew word for "reconciling" is also the same Hebrew word translated 15 times in this same chapter as "atonement," this means that the sins are only put upon the scapegoat after the end of the atonement.

The high priest represents Jesus. Whom would Jesus put the sins of God's people upon after He has finished the atonement? Himself? Why would He need to do that? There is absolutely no need for Him to place sins upon Himself after the atonement is finished.

At this point we find Ellen White's idea that the scapegoat represents Satan to be far less troubling than the thought that Christ's atonement was somehow incomplete. In order for Sanders to be correct, Christ must place sins upon Himself after the atonement is over, and pay for those sins yet again as the scapegoat.

Why Would God Punish Satan for the Sins of Others?

That question needs an answer. Can we find one?

Of course, the easy answer is that since he is the tempter, he is in some way responsible for everyone's sins. But we're not looking for easy answers here. Consider the following texts:

. . . that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. (Heb. 2:14)

And I will put enmity between thee [the serpent or Satan] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Clearly, part of the Messiah's mission was to destroy Satan. But it wasn't only the Messiah that would do this:

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Rom. 16:20)

Let the saints be joyful in glory . . . . Let a twoedged sword [be] in their hand; To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD. (Ps. 149:5-9)

In some way the redeemed, God's saints, are honored in having a part in the bruising and breaking of Satan. In what way could this prophecy be fulfilled? Ellen White makes one suggestion: After the completion of the atonement, the sins of God's people are laid upon the old goat, and he is punished for those sins.

Perhaps Sanders has another suggestion. If so, we'd be open to hear it.

Is Azazel Satan?

One goat was for Yahweh, and the other for Azazel. We already noted that Azazel is a name for a fallen angel in the Book of Enoch. It is interesting to also note that in satanism a goat is used as a symbol for Satan. The following quotations compiled by a scholar are likewise worth considering:

Mr. [Charles] Beecher states two views respecting the meaning of this term Azazel, each of which he shows to be manifestly untrue. He then gives his own view, as follows:—

"The third opinion is, that Azazel is a proper name of Satan. In support of this, the following points are urged: The use of the preposition implies it. The same preposition is used on both lots, La Yehova, La Azazel; and if the one indicates a person, it seems natural the other should, especially considering the act of casting lots. If one is for Jehovah, the other would seem for some other person or being; not one for Jehovah, and the other for the goat itself.
"What goes to confirm this is, that the most ancient paraphrases and translations treat Azazel as a proper name. The Chaldee paraphrase and the targums of Onkelos and Jonathan would certainly have translated it if it was not a proper name, but they do not. The Septuagint, or oldest Greek version, renders it by apopompaios, a word applied by the Greeks to a malign deity, sometimes appeased by sacrifices.
"Another confirmation is found in the Book of Enoch, where the name Azalzel, evidently a corruption of Azazel, is given to one of the fallen angels, thus plainly showing what was the prevalent understanding of the Jews at that day.
"Still another evidence is found in the Arabic, where Azazel is employed as the name of the evil spirit.
"In addition to these, we have the evidence of the Jewish work, Zohar, and of the Cabalistic and Rabbinical writers. They tell us that the following proverb was current among the Jews: 'On the day of atonement, a gift to Sammael [a Jewish name for Satan].' . . .
"Another step in the evidence is when we find this same opinion passing from the Jewish to the early Christian church. Origen was the most learned of the Fathers, and on such a point as this, the meaning of a Hebrew word, his testimony is reliable. Says Origen: 'He who is called in the Septuagint apopompaios and in the Hebrew Azazel, is no other than the devil.'
"Lastly, a circumstance is mentioned of the Emperor Julian, the apostate, that confirms the argument. He brought as an objection against the Bible, that Moses commanded a sacrifice to the evil spirit. An objection he never could have thought of, had not Azazel been generally regarded as a proper name.
"In view, then, of the difficulties attending any other meaning, and the accumulated evidence in favor of this, Hengstenberg affirms with great confidence that Azazel cannot be anything else but another name for Satan. . . .
"The meaning of the term, viewed as a proper name, was stated in 1677, by Spencer, Dean of Ely, to be Powerful Apostate, or Mighty Receder."

Mr. Beecher, on the seventy-second page of his work, states that Professor Bush considers Azazel to be a proper name of Satan.

Gesenius, the great Hebrew lexicographer, says:—

"Azazel, a word found only in the law respecting the day of atonement. Lev. 16:8, 10, 26. . . . it seems to denote an evil demon dwelling in the desert and to be plac[at]ed with victims . . . . This name Azazel is also used by the Arabs for an evil demon."

Milton represents Azazel as one of the fallen angels, and the standard-bearer of Satan:—

"That proud honor claimed
      Azazel as his right, a cherub tall;
Who forthwith from the glittering staff unfurled
      The imperial ensign."—Paradise Lost, book 1.

The Comprehensive Commentary has the following important remarks:—

"Scape-goat. See different opinions in Bochart. Spencer, after the oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christians, thinks Azazel is the name of the devil; and so Rosenmuller, whom see. The Syriac has Azzail, the angel (strong one) who revolted."

Cassell's Illustrated Bible speaks thus of the scape-goat:—

"We offer the following exposition as much more likely, and much more satisfactory: That Azazel is a personal denomination for the evil one."

—J. N. Andrews, The Judgment, Its Events and Their Order, pp. 78-81.

Looks like, even if Ellen White were wrong on this one, a pretty good case can be made to support her position on the scapegoat.

Give Us Your Opinion

"Satan Bearing Sins": What do you think?
Sanders is right because Christ's atonement is definitely incomplete. Jesus has to place sins on Himself after the atonement is over.
Ellen White was probably right that the scapegoat is Satan. Christ doesn't have to pay for sin after He has finished the atonement.
It doesn't bother me a bit if God holds that old goat responsible for all the sins of the redeemed. He's got it coming to him.
I've never heard these ideas before. I need to study, think, and pray about this before I know what I believe on this one.
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