There are several similarities between the selection of the Scapegoat, and the selection of Jesus as our sacrifice.

Leviticus 16:7 KJV And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

Matthew 27:17 KJV Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?

Leviticus 16:8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

Matthew 27:21 KJV The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.

Leviticus 16:9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.

Leviticus 16:10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.

Matthew 27:26 KJV Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Do these passage suggestion a connection betwen the Scapegoat of Leviticus and the figure of Barabbas in the passion narrative?

  • Why the down vote as far as I can determine this question in no way defies any precept of questions on this site? – BYE Jan 1 '14 at 12:12
  • Not my downvote, but it plainly doesn't fit into the list of on-topic questions. In particular, asking what the Bible says about a subject is off-topic unless a specific tradition is specified. – lonesomeday Jan 1 '14 at 15:03
  • Perhaps I am mistaken but I did not think I was asking about a particular subject, only for a theological comparison of those specific Scriptures. to my understanding that the two could be alluding to each other even though not a comparison. – BYE Jan 1 '14 at 15:44
  • You still need to be working within a specific theological tradition to be on-topic... – lonesomeday Jan 1 '14 at 15:52
  • It's certainly an interesting comparison and one worth looking into. If you're ok with a Methodist interpretation I can take a stab at it. – crownjewel82 Jan 1 '14 at 16:17

I suspect not.

For two reasons:

  1. The "goat upon which the Lord's lot fell" was still used as an offering. Barabbas was simply released.

  2. It makes more sense that Jesus is the type both of the sin offering and the scapegoat -- especially given how repetitively the sacrificial system prefigured the Messiah in many other aspects. This repeating imagery amounts at last to layers of nuanced meaning which resolve into a fuller picture of the Messiah than any one (or select few) of the metaphors could have provided.

  • +1; the scapegoat represents the taking of Israel's sins. Barabbas does not. – Ryan Frame Jan 4 '14 at 18:06
  • @ David Michael Gregg But that is my question both the scapegoat and Barabbas were both considered for death, but both were set free while another was killed in their place. My question does the similarity of the situations somehow intertwine even though neither refers to the other. which is why I used the word Allusion. – BYE Jan 4 '14 at 21:23
  • 2
    @ Ryan Frame Unless I am misreading Scripture the scapegoat does not take the sins, but is released and spared death just as Barabbas was and Jesus and the goat on which the lot fell were killed instead. The similarities between the two incidents is very intriguing to me. And as far as things with God go I do not believe in coincidence. – BYE Jan 4 '14 at 21:28
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    @CecilBeckum: Leviticus 16:20-22 is relevant here. And according to the Talmud, the scapegoat was basically pushed off a cliff (steep hill), "being separated limb from limb." – Ryan Frame Jan 13 '14 at 1:23
  • There were two goats: One to take on the sins of Israel (the goat pushed off the cliff), and one to cleanse Israel. – James Shewey Nov 8 '15 at 4:45

Yes. There is indeed an SIGNIFICANT connection between the scapegoat and Barabbas...and it goes even deeper.

One thing that Christ said is paramount, and that is “the scriptures must be fulfilled.” In Leviticus 16 the ritual of atonement, twin goats were presented to God (i.e. The Judge) and then God decided which goat would die and which goat would be released alive into the wilderness (represented by casting of lots). BOTH of these goats were considered the SINGLE sin offering in the foreshadowing ritual.

The scriptures must be fulfilled. Christ said it.

It’s similar to the ritual of cleansing of the leper (Leviticus 14). Leprosy represented “sin”. In the ritual, two birds were needed. One was killed in an earthen vessel, while the second bird was dipped in (or “covered” by) the blood (i.e. life) of the first bird, and then released alive into the wilderness.

So we fast forward to Christ at his trial and we have...

Two men were presented alive to the judge (who Pilate represented) where a decision was made where one man would die “for the people” (John 11:50-51) and the other would be released alive. Remember that Christ said Pilate had no power over him but what God gave him? Basically he was saying to Pilate, “you’re just here to fulfill scripture. You have absolutely no power over me.” Awesome.

Now if this wasn’t enough of a fulfillment we can look at the names of the two men.

Matthew 27:17 –

“So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah/Christ?”

Both men had the same name

Then, Barabbas is an Aramaic compound word which means “Son of (the) father” [bar + abba]. So we have one “Jesus” who’s called “Son of the father” and the other “Jesus” called “Messiah”.

We can go further matching the ritual to its fulfillment...

In the ritual, all of the sins were placed on the head of the second goat, so by all intents and purposes the second goat was “full of sin” or seen as “sinful”, while the first goat “had no sin” or was “sinless”. Still...the pure goat was killed for the sin payment while the sinful goat was set free though it actually deserved to die.

This is exactly what we have fulfilled in the gospel account. Barabbas was a criminal; guilty of crimes, while Christ was an innocent man. Christ died, while Barabbas was set free.

Again, Christ said The Scriptures must be fulfilled. Leviticus must be fulfilled to the very letter because all scripture is "God-breathed"(2 Tim 3:16). Not one jot or tittle passes from the Torah (i.e. scriptures) until ALL is fulfilled. - Christ

Now what will really bake your noodle is this question:

“Was Barabbas the complete fulfillment of this ritual or just the intermediate fulfillment?” Just like John the Baptist was an intermediary fulfillment of the Elijah and not its complete fulfillment.

Elijah wasn’t subject to the judgment (of death) like the rest of mankind is, though all men deserved to die...while Christ who didn’t deserve the judgment tasted death for us...so essentially Elijah and Christ can represent the two goats also. They even performed the same miracles!

Christ is called “The faithful witness”, but as scripture says, every matter must be established by the testimony of two or more witnesses. SO if Christ was a faithful witness to the truth of God (that man can live in obedience to Him and not sin), we await at least one more witness to testify to that truth; a “twin goat” who was once sinful and deserving of death (i.e. a "barabbas") but who won’t die (an "Elijah", a "bird" covered by Christ's blood); who will live in this wilderness of a world and remove sin entirely from his life (i.e. "aza-zel" = Heb. "Complete Removal").

We await our end time “Elijah” who prepares Christ's way, since Christ said “Elijah MUST come first (before he comes) and restore all things”. We will never see Christ until we first see this “Elijah” whatever his name will be.

Scripture must be fulfilled.

Interesting still, the job of leading the sinful goat into the wilderness - to be left there - was placed in the hands of an ordinary man “fit” for the task, while the High Priest continued ministering with the first goat’s blood, sprinkling it in God’s temple.

It’s quaint to say Christ has every job to do and that there’s no work for anyone else to do, but scripture must be fulfilled. Christ as our High Priest remains in the temple ministering with his blood. He isn’t physically out here the wilderness (i.e. world) doing a job that wasn’t his by ritual. Christ died and cleansed the temple “of our hearts” with his blood so that ordinary mankind, now empowered; now fit for the task, can leave sin alone.

  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you'd like to strengthen your answer, I'd recommend adding sources to show that this post doesn't merely reflect your own analysis. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 10 '16 at 13:00
  • Your thesis is fine up to a point, and bears out with Scripture up to a point. The assertion that Elijah was a type of goat does not seem to be right. Also the allusion about John the Baptist might be a little on the far side. Finally it is we who were the sinful goat who became the obedient servant, and not some future entity. The blood of Jesus not only washes our past sins, but our future sins also. Jesus made that clear when he talked about lust being the same when it is thought as well as action. (Continued ) – BYE Jul 10 '16 at 18:45

No - it was Jesus, a few interesting facts:

  1. The Scapegoat was led out of the city by a Gentile...Jesus was led out of the city by the Romans.
  2. According to Jewish literature: The priest placed a red cord on the head of the scapegoat (to represent sin)...Jesus had a crown of thornes oplaced on his head (causing him to bleed).
  3. The Scapegoat was about taking away the sins of the people...John said "behold the Lamb of God WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD".

There are a few more, but I think that gives a bit of backing to my answer.

  • The one who led the scapegoat away was a gentile? I don't see anything saying that in Lev 16. – curiousdannii May 19 '14 at 11:28
  • The scape goat was not killed. Only the Lord's goat was killed. Jesus died on the cross did He not? – One Face Mar 3 '15 at 13:48
  • The scapegoat was not killed directly e.g. with a knife, but indirectly by being pushed over a cliff. The details are described in the Mishna, tractate Yoma, ch. 6, which is a reliable source on that subject. Most interestingly, the Gemara (rabbinic comment on the Mishnah) on Yoma ch. 4 says "The rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple [...] the red wool did not become white". Since the Temple was destroyed on August 70 AD, this means that the OT-mandated sacrifice for Atonement had not been accepted by God since 30 AD, i.e. after the Passion of Jesus. – Johannes Jul 11 '16 at 22:43

The story of Barabbas was an allusion to the scapegoat of Leviticus, not the other way around. Once we recognise the man Barabbas to be a literary creation, we may acknowledge that the story featuring the release of Barabbas was, in its entirety, a literary creation. The story parallels the Jewish practice of releasing a goat (the scapegoat) on the Day of Atonement, to carry away the sins of the faithful, and of sacrificing a second goat. John Shelby Spong says, in Jesus for the NonReligious, page 168, that he has been able to find no evidence that there was a custom of releasing a prisoner at the time of the Passover.

Richard Carrier points out, in his Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (by Dennis R. MacDonald; Yale University, 2000), that Barabbas means 'Son of the Father' and thus is an obvious pun on Christ himself. The irony in Mark's story (copied to the other New Testament gospels), is that in releasing Barabbas, Pilate released the wrong Son of the Father.

  • And Luke says his first name is "Jesus". – cwallenpoole Mar 3 '15 at 20:42
  • @cwall SOME manuscripts of Luke call him Jesus Bar Abbas. – Bit Chaser Nov 5 '15 at 9:03

I will structure my answer in two parts. First I will focus on why the he-goat for the LORD had no correspondence in Jesus' sacrifice. Then I will focus on why the scapegoat was a figure of Jesus.

Part 1. Why the he-goat for the LORD had no correspondence in Jesus

The rites carried out by the High Priest in the feast of Atonement involved three animals: a bull and two he-goats, one for the LORD and one for azazel (meaning "entire removal"). The High Priest would ...

  • slaughter the bull to make atonement for himself and for his household (Lev 16:11). This had no correspondence in the case of Jesus, since He was sinless.

  • slaughter the he-goat for the LORD as a sin offering which is for the people, and

  • take some of the blood of the bull and then of the blood of the he-goat and sprinkle it "on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat" (Lev 16:14:15) to "make atonement for the Holy Place" (Lev 16:16), then on the tent of meeting (Lev 16:16), and then on "the altar that is before the LORD" to "make atonement for it" (Lev 16:18), specifically to "cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the sons of Israel" (Lev 16:19).

Thus, the he-goat for the LORD was sacrificed not to cleanse the sons of Israel, but to cleanse the Holy Place and the altar from the uncleannesses of the sons of Israel. But in the real Atonement carried out by Jesus the Holy Place and the altar were his Most Holy Body, which needed no cleansing. Therefore, the he-goat for the LORD had no correspondence in Jesus' sacrifice.

Part 2. Why the scapegoat was figure of Jesus

This explanation is based on the passage in John's Gospel when the people that had come to apprehend Jesus fall to the ground when He said "I Am" for the first time (Jn 18:5-6). To apprehend the theological meaning of this passage we need to take into account three data items:

First, the isolated statement "I Am" (Ego Eimi), with which Jesus identifies Himself twice in the passage, appears in 4 previous verses in John's Gospel:

  • «for unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.» (Jn 8:24)

  • «When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am, and that I do nothing on my own;» (Jn 8:28)

  • «Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.» (Jn 8:58)

  • «I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it comes to pass, you may believe that I Am.» (Jn 13:19)

In all these verses it is clear that Jesus applies to Himself the proper Name of God in the first person revealed in Ex 3:14: Ehyeh, "I Am". This is particularly evident in the first, second and fourth verses, in which Jesus notes the importance of {beleiving/knowing} that "He Is", echoing Isaiah 43:10 y 48:12.

Second. The Greek term "fell" (epesan) is used 5 times by the Apostle John in Revelation in the sense of "fall on their face" to worship: 5:8, 5:14, 7:11, 11:16 and 19:4.

Third. By the time of Jesus, the proper Name of God in the third person revealed in Ex 3:15: YHWH, "He causes to be" if vocalized YaHWeH, was uttered by only one person, the High Priest, on only one day of the year, the feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur), 6 times when making a sacrifice for his own sins, one time when drawing the lot for the he-goats, and 3 times when loading the iniquities and transgressions of the sons of Israel on the he-goat to be sent to the desert (Lev 16:20-22). The prayer used by the High Priest for the latter function, and the people's response, are in the Mishna, tractate Yoma, chapter 6:

He then came to the he-goat which was to be sent away to Azazeil and forcefully leans his hands on it and confesses. And so he would say: Please O YHWH, they have done wrong they have transgressed they have sinned before You - Your nation the House of Israel, Please, O YHWH, forgive them for their doing wrong, for their transgressions and for their sins, as is written in the Torah of Moshe Your servant: “For on this day He will effect atonement for you to purify you before YHWH” (Leviticus 16:30). And when the priests and the people who were standing in the courtyard heard the fully pronunced Name come from the mouth of the High Priest they would kneel, prostate themselves, fall on their faces, and call out: Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. He gave it over to the one who was to lead it [to Azazeil].

Mishnah Yoma, chapter 6

Mishnah Yoma 6

From these data, the meaning of the fall to the ground of the party that had come to apprehend Jesus when He said "I Am" for the first time is crystal clear: Jesus is the High Priest who is carrying out the true Atonement prefigured by the rite in the Mosaic Law, and that at the time of loading the iniquities and transgressions of men on the victim that will carry them, pronunces the proper Name of God, with the difference, with respect to an ordinary High Priest, that:

  • since Jesus Himself is the victim, He bears and carries our iniquities and transgressions Himself,

  • since Jesus Himself is God, He pronounces the proper Name of God in the first person.

Finally, the third time when Jesus pronounces the proper Name of God in the first person as true High Priest of the true Atonement is not recorded in John's Gospel but in Mark's, in the reply to the High Priest

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and says to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" And Jesus said, "I Am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mk 14:61-62)

To validate the interpretation of this "I Am" as the third uttering of the divine Name in the first person by Jesus as High Priest of the true Atonement, we must note that, in the Jewish rite, immediately after the High Priest finished his prayer uttering the divine Name by a third time, the goat was taken to the desert. Similarly, immediately after pronouncing the third "I Am" in Mk 14:62, Jesus started to be spit, striken, mocked and slapped by the Jews (Mk 14:65).

Acknowledgment: I learned of this theological meaning of the passage from a site on the revealed Name of God by a Jewish scholar:


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