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Questions On Doctrine


The Meaning of Azazel



Are not Seventh-day Adventists alone in teaching that the scapegoat, or Azazel, represents Satan?


No, Seventh-day Adventists are not alone in believing that Azazel represents Satan. Let us take a look at word and its origin.

In the K.J.V. the word used to designate the second goat in the ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:10) is called the "scapegoat"; in the R.V. and the A.R.V., and in most other translations, the word is rendered "Azazel," which is the transliteration of the Hebrew word.

Etymology of the Word Not Clear.—The word "Azazel" has been the subject of much dispute and conjecture through the centuries. Many scholars agree that it is "a phrase of unusual difficulty" (Smith and Peloubet, A Dictionary of the Bible, p. 65); "the origin and meaning of the goat 'for Azazel' are indeed obscure" (George B. Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 11); "that its etymology is not clear" (T. W. Chambers, "Satan in the Old Testament," Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vol. 3, p. 26). Note the following:


Etymology, origin and significance are still matters of conjecture. The A.V. [K.J.V.] designation scapegoat (i.e. the goat that is allowed to escape, which goes back to caper emissarius of the Vulgate) obscures the fact that the word Azazel is a proper name in the original, and in particular the name of a powerful spirit or demon.—A. R. S. Kennedy, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible (one volume), p. 77.

How "Scapegoat" Came into the K.J.V.—The translation in the text of the King James Version is "scapegoat." The dictionary meaning of this word is "Scape," coming from the Old English—scapen. Chaucer used it in the expression "help us to Scape." (Century Dictionary Encyclopedia.) "Scapegoat. . . . From Scape . . . a mutilated form of escape." (W. W. Skeat, Etymological Dictionary in the English Language.)

This gives us the concept of a goat that escaped, the idea being that the goat was sent away into the wilderness, and allowed to go free. Later, "scapegoat" came to mean "a person or thing bearing blame for others" (Webster's Dictionary).

Tyndale was evidently the first to use the word "scapegoat" in any English translation:

Apparently invented by Tyndale (1530) to express what he believed to be the literal meaning of Hebrew . . . Azazel, occurring only in Lev. 16:8, 10 (in vs. 10 he renders: "The goote on which the lotte fell to Scape."). The same interpretation is expressed by the Vulgate caper emissarius (whence the Fr., bouc emissaire), and by Coverdale's (1535) rendering "the fregoate," but is now regarded as untenable. The word does not appear in the Revised Version of 1884, which has "Azazel" (as a proper name), in the text, and "dismissal" in the margin, as an alternative rendering.—Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 9, p. 180.

Tyndale, however, so far as this chapter in Leviticus is concerned, was evidently influenced more by the Vulgate, the basis of Roman Catholic translations of


the Scriptures, rather than by the original Hebrew Scriptures, which have been used by Protestants and others. The Latin Vulgate, which, after all, is a secondary source—being itself but a translation—renders the term "Azazel" by caper emissarius, which is used for "scapegoat," or "Azazel," in Leviticus 16:8, and means the emissary goat or the goat that escaped.

"Scapegoat" Obscures the Thought.Many scholars feel that the word "scapegoat" does not properly convey the thought of the Hebrew text; some even feel it is misleading. The critical scholar Dr. S. R. Driver comments:

An evil spirit, supposed to dwell in the wilderness. The word occurs only here in the O.T. . . . The rendering Scape-goat, derived through Jerome from Symmachus, is certainly incorrect; it does not suit v. 26, and implies a derivation opposed to the genius of the Hebrew language, as though Azazel were a compound word. . . . Moreover, the marked antithesis between for Azazel and for JHVH, does not leave it open to doubt that the former is conceived as a personal being.—Book of Leviticus, p.81.

A scholar of the evangelical school declares, in the Sunday School Times, that to render "Azazel" by the word "scapegoat" is misleading:

The goat for Azazel, the Scapegoat, as it is sometimes misleadingly translated, typifies God's challenge to Satan. (John 1:8; Eph. 3:10.)—J. Russell Howden, in Sunday School Times, Jan. 15, 1927.

The Name "Azazel."—The testimony of many scholars of the past, both Jewish and Christian, as well as many of the present, is to this effect:

a. That Azazel Refers to a Person.

The Jewish authority Dr. M. M. Kalisch.—There can be no doubt whatever that Azazel is a personal, a superhuman, and an


evil being—in fact a wicked demon. . . . It was approved of by early Christian writers who identified Azazel with Satan (Origen, C. Cels. VI. 43, p. 305 ed. Spencer; Iren. Adv. Haer. 1. 12; Epiphan. Haeres XXXIV. 11), and by many later and modern scholars.— A Historical and Critical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2, pp. 328, 329.

"International Standard Bible Encyclopedia."—By the use of the same preposition . . . in connection with Jehovah and Azazel, it seems natural . . . to think of some personal being.— "Azazel," vol. 1, p. 343.

Smith and Peloubet's "A Dictionary of the Bible."—The best modern scholars agree that it designates the personal being to whom the goat was sent, probably Satan.—Page 65.

b. That Azazel Refers to Satan.

J. Russell Howden (Church of England).—The goat for Azazel, as it is sometimes misleadingly translated typifies God's challenge to Satan.

Of the two goats, one was for Jehovah, signifying God's acceptance of the sin-offering; the other was for Azazel. This is probably to be understood as a person, being parallel with Jehovah in the preceding clause. So Azazel is probably a synonym for Satan.—Sunday School Times, Jan. 15, 1927.

Samuel M. Zwemer (Presbyterian).—The devil (Sheitan, or Iblis) has a proper name—Azazel. He was expelled from Eden.—Islam, a Challenge to Faith, p. 89.

E. W. Hengstenberg (Lutheran).—The manner in which the phrase "for Azazel" is contrasted with "for Jehovah," necessarily requires that Azazel should designate a personal existence and if so, only Satan can be intended. If by Azazel, Satan is not meant, there is no reason for the lots that were cast. We can then see no reason why the decision was referred to God, why the high priest did not simply assign one goat for a sin offering, and the other for sending away into the desert. Egypt and the Books of Moses, pp. 170, 171.

J. B. Rotherham (Disciples of Christ?).—"And one lot for Azazel" (Lev. xvi. 8).—It seems impossible to dissent from the opinion that "Azazel," instead of being a name for the (e)scape goat, is the name or title of an evil Being, opposed to Yahweh, to whom the live goat on the great Day of Propitiation was sent. Admitting so much, it still remains to inquire into the meaning


of this very peculiar but impressive ceremony of sending the living goat to Azazel. Assuming that Satan is represented by Azazel—and there does not appear anything else which biblically we can assume—it is most important to observe that there is here no sacrifice offered to the evil spirit.—The Emphasized Bible, vol. 3, p. 918.

William Jenks (Congregationalist).—Scapegoat. See different opinion in Bochart. Spencer, after the oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christian, thinks Azazel is the name of the devil, and so Rosenmuller, whom see. The Syriac has Azzail, the "angel (strong one) who revolted."—The Comprehensive Commentary of the Holy Bible, p. 410.

"Abingdon Bible Commentary" (Methodist).—On the goats lots are to be cast, one for Jehovah, and the other for Azazel. The translation dismissal in the R.V. mg. here (cf. removal in A.S.V. mg.) is inadmissible, being based on a false etymology. What the word meant is unknown, but it should be retained as the proper name of a wilderness demon—Page 289.

Mention might be made also of William Milligan, James Hastings, and William Smith, of the Presbyterian Church; Elmer Flack and H. C. Alleman, of the Lutheran Church; Charles Beecher and F. N. Peloubet, of the Congregational Church; George A. Barton, of the Society of Friends; John M'Clintock and James Strong, of the Methodist Church; James M. Gray, of the Reformed Episcopal Church; and a host of others who have expressed themselves in the same way. Adventists, during the years, have been in full accord with the expressions of such eminent theologians and scholars on this matter.

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