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What the Bible says about Our Responsibility for Sin
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Leviticus 16:21-22

Scripture plainly teaches that Christ bears our sins (Isaiah 53:4, 11-12; I Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28). Yet, we introduce grave error if we gloss over either the Bible's general teaching on sin or whose sins, in particular, are atoned for in Leviticus 16.

One error lies in blaming Satan for the sins of humanity, then interpreting the azazel to represent Satan bearing mankind's sins. Apocryphal tradition holds that all sin should be ascribed to a fallen angel named Azazel, and even today it is commonly taught that the real cause—the actual author—of human sin is Satan. However, the Word of God shows that this is not true.

There is no question that Satan deceives (Revelation 12:9). He broadcasts his attitudes, and we all have tuned in to them. Ephesians 2:2 establishes that an evil spirit influence is at work in the world today. John declares that “the whole world lies under [his] sway” (I John 5:19).

However, “there is a spirit in man” that is the basis of mankind's reason and free moral agency (Job 32:8; I Corinthians 2:11). This biblically revealed truth means that, while a malignant spirit can affect the spirit in man, it does not force a person to act. This outside spirit gives people terrible information on which to base their decisions, but God says they have enough evidence of His power and divine nature to make them without excuse (Romans 1:20).

The ancient Israelites did not have God's Spirit, yet He still set life and death before them, commanding them to choose (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). They had only the spirit in man, but the power to choose was still theirs. Earlier, God had warned Israel, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16; emphasis ours). God's admonition shows that if they allowed themselves to be deceived, it was due to their not “tak[ing] heed.” They could blame only themselves. Satan exerts influence, sometimes powerfully, but the responsibility to choose life still belongs to the individual.

When we sin, it is not because Satan authors it. James 1:14 says that we sin when we are drawn away by our desires, which give birth to sin (verse 15). We sin because our hearts are not yet like God's heart, which cannot be tempted. The core problem is not what Satan does—though it is certainly problematic—but the desperately evil human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The solution is a new, spiritual heart like Christ's (Ezekiel 36:26).

The common view of Leviticus 16 holds that the goat being led away and released is a type of what happens to Satan. However, neither Satan's binding (at the beginning of the Millennium; Revelation 20:1-3) nor his being cast into the Lake of Fire (sometime after the Millennium; Revelation 20:10) corresponds with the azazel being set free. While not every symbol will necessarily match up in a spiritual fulfillment, it is hard to see how these things even begin to match up. The goat is commanded to be released (Leviticus 16:22), while the fallen archangel is confined, restrained, and (later) cast into fire—completely dissimilar actions. In short, there is no scriptural support for Satan fulfilling the part the live goat plays.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)

Leviticus 16:21-22

The sins in view are human sins, yet some propose that what is being expiated is Satan's portion of human sin. In other words, in any given sin, the individual plays a part and Satan plays a part, and thus God must deal with Satan's sins after the first goat is offered to cover humanity's sins.

However, we need to double-check that math very carefully. The Bible says nothing about a co-sinner. God does not split up the death penalty, such that a person earns part of the death penalty, while Satan earns the rest.

Leviticus 5:17 says, “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity” (emphasis ours). Sinning in ignorance—including transgressing due to deception—does not mean that less of a sin has been committed against God's holy, spiritual law. Regardless of what led to the infraction, when a sin is committed, the sinner earns the wages of sin. There is no concept of a partial sin or divided guilt in the Scriptures. If a sin involves two beings, then each has committed sin, and both earn the death penalty, as in the case of Adam and Eve (cf. I Timothy 2:13-14). That is the correct biblical math.

Think about this in terms of money. We each incur our own debt when we sin, and the debt is not shared, no matter how we incurred it and no matter who said what. If a generous benefactor pays our debt for us, then we are in the clear. Our debt's cancellation, though, is in no way pertinent to the slick salesman who suggested that we take it on in the first place. The deceiver is responsible for his lies, and we are responsible if we listen to him and make ourselves indebted.

The principle of “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4) is why the Bible places such emphasis on drawing near to God, resisting Satan, loving the truth, and guarding ourselves against deception. The danger is not that Satan will make us sin, as he cannot force anybody to sin. The danger is that we will sin and incur the death penalty by not taking heed. That God gives us so many admonitions means that we incur guilt when we let that happen—it is ours, not Satan's.

Symbolically, to represent the guilty party, the substitutionary animal has sins placed on it that are not its own. Obviously, Satan has his own guilt, so he cannot be a substitute for anyone else. The Bible says these are human sins, and it is fallacious to try to explain away its clear statements.

In addition, if Satan were responsible for all human sin, then what would be the need to show a symbolic transference taking place? Under this assumption, the sins of mankind are already on his head! His guilt has never left him, so it does not need to be placed back on him. Yet, the Atonement ritual specifies that the sins be placed on an innocent party's head—one that is not already responsible for those sins. At every turn, Satan fails to fit into what Leviticus 16 says.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)

Mark 7:21-23

It is obvious that He lays the choices—the decisions, the judgments to do these things—not on Satan's shoulders, but on man's—that man should know enough to resist any Satanic impulse to do these things. So, who does God hold responsible for obeying Him? Truly, we learn from Revelation 12:9 that the Devil has deceived the whole world, but when we add these other factors, we find that God holds each person responsible for what he or she has done. He holds Satan responsible for his part, and He holds each person responsible for his or her part. It has to be this way, otherwise what consequence is free moral agency? It would be no consequence at all.

So God, from His position, does not view us as being free from blame because we have been duped by Satan. We can see this in a simple example of God's judgment concerning Adam and Eve. He dispersed a portion of blame to each exactly where it belongs: on all three participants.

This is especially important for us to understand because the Bible is written for those who have made the covenant with God. It is only written indirectly for the world. It is given to those who have had their eyes opened—to those to whom God has revealed Himself. God has put Christians into a position very similar to Adam and Eve's. God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve from the very beginning, and they were in a position where they knew God and could make a choice that others may not have been in the same position to make because they did not have that initial contact with God. However, God has revealed Himself to us, and thus, we are in much the same position as Adam and Eve.

By far, these verses apply to us more directly than they do to anybody in the world. We have to face our responsibility squarely concerning whom we will choose to serve. Will it be the sovereign Lord Creator or Satan, a fallen angel? Who is sovereign in our lives?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part One)

John 8:44

Jesus identifies Satan as the spiritual father of those Jews who opposed Him, implying that they had learned how to murder and lie because the Devil was their spiritual father. They were displaying his characteristics, just as children naturally adopt the traits of their parents. Yet was Satan actually responsible for their sins? Notice what the pre-incarnate Christ says earlier through Ezekiel:

Yet you say, “Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?” Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

God holds the father accountable for his sins, and the children responsible for their sins. The sinning soul bears its own guilt and penalty—death (Romans 6:23). Ezekiel 18 completely nullifies the justification that a child can blame his parents for his faults. Even though parents exert tremendous influence, God's view of parent-child relationships does not allow this shifting of blame.

Following this through, God will not accept this justification with regard to an individual blaming his spiritual father, Satan, even though he also wields considerable influence. According to the repeated principle in Ezekiel 18, Satan cannot bear the guilt of sins committed by a human. He bears the guilt for his own sins, which include deception, but Satan cannot make us sin.

In verses 14-17, God even gives the scenario of a son recognizing the sinfulness of his father and choosing to go a different way. The Jews who opposed Christ in John 8 should have done exactly that—realized that the murder and lies in their hearts did not originate with God, then chosen to act differently from their spiritual father.

In Genesis 3:17, God identifies the trigger of Adam's sin as heeding the voice of his wife. In the same way, our sin may also begin with heeding the voice of another (Satan), but he is not the author of our sin, any more than Eve was the author of Adam's sin. Though Adam and Eve played the blame game, God did not accept their excuses. If we hold to the justification that Satan is the real cause of our sins, we are trying to dodge reality, just as they did.

The apostle Paul declares in Romans 5:12 that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Notice that God does not put the origin of human sin on Satan, but on Adam, even though Satan sinned long before and overtly lied to Eve (Genesis 3:4). This is how God reckons human sin—as difficult as it may be to accept. The overall point in Romans 5 is that, even though the first man introduced sin to mankind, it is through the Son of Man that humanity will be justified and made righteous. Put simply, humanity has made the choice to sin, and Christ alone provides atonement upon repentance (Acts 4:12; Matthew 1:21; I Timothy 2:5-6).

A few chapters later, in Romans 7, we find Paul's anguish over his struggle with sin. His conclusion is not that Satan is the real cause—the Devil gets only one mention in Romans, where the apostle writes that the God of peace will crush him (Romans 16:20). Instead, Paul concludes that he had indwelling sin. Rather than point the finger at Satan, he mournfully recognizes his sinful state and declares his faith in Christ's work and deliverance (verse 25).

Paul's conclusion suggests that, in addition to Satan being completely unworthy of being represented by a substitutionary sacrifice, it is also wholly incongruous to suggest that the sins of the people belong on Satan's head. Their sins are their own, and Satan's sins are his own.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)


 




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