Main biblical themes
Scapegoating: the transferability of sin:
the innocent for the sins
of the guilty
Conflicting biblical quotations:
Is scapegoating ethical?
Is sin -- and the punishment for sin -- transferable from the guilty to the innocent?
No, at least sin which requires the death penalty is not transferable:
||"The fathers shall not be put to death for the
children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every
man shall be put to death for his own sin." 1
Yes, God can personally take an active role in transferring punishment among
generations from the guilty to the innocent:
||"Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them (idols), nor
serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of
the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them
that hate me." 2
A skeptical quotation by Ahamed Deedat:
Original Sin: "Each and every one has this contamination according to the Christians....He, [God] blames you for something that you didn't do and he blesses you for what someone else did." [That is, God
blames everyone for the sins of Adam and Eve, and blesses believers for the sacrifice of Jesus] . 3
When a crime is committed, who should be held responsible? Should it be only
the person who committed the illegal act and that person's accomplices? If punishment is involved, should it
be restricted to the perpetrator? Or is it appropriate to apply a principle of
collective responsibility 4 and
punish a group of people who have some connection to the perpetrator? -- perhaps
including that person's parents; their children; more distant relatives;
inhabitants of the same town; those of the same religion, tribe, nationality,
language, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or some other factor. 5
Most legal, religious and ethical systems worldwide hold individuals responsible
for their own acts. A guilty person cannot transfer their responsibility for
having committed a criminal act to their children, parents, friends, or
strangers. When they do the crime, they are stuck with the time in jail.
However, if we assume that the Bible is inerrant and unambiguous,
the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures
(a.k.a. New Testament) both teach a different message. They contain numerous descriptions of instances where a
transfer of responsibility from the guilty to the innocent took place -- some
under direct instruction by God.
As Tracy White wrote in her column "Daily Walk:"
"Four thousands years were required to teach the world through extensive pattern and unfolding design that sin must be atoned only by the shedding of innocent blood. ..." 6
Although this section of our web site describes many of the instances in the Bible where sin
transfer is described, It is important to remember that many liberal and mainline Jews and
Christians do not believe in the inerrancy of the
Bible. Some consider many biblical stories to be unrelated to real, historical
events. Some even feel that some events are against the will and intent of God, and merely reflect the pre-scientific tribal culture that was active when the books were written. Many suggest that such transfer of sin is immoral and that biblical passages promoting such transfers should be ignored along with other biblical events that are immoral by today's ethical standards.
Topics covered in this section:
- Deuteronomy 24:16 in the King James Version of the Bible.
- Exodus 20:5 in the King James Version of the Bible. This is part of
one of the three copies of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures.
- Excerpted from a speech by Ahamed Deedat at: http://www.youtube.com/
- Marion Smiley, "Collective Responsibility," Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy, at: http://plato.stanford.edu/
- Nicholas Kristof, "Sentenced to be raped," The New York Times,
2004-SEP-29, Page A-25. Abstract at: http://query.nytimes.com/ Full text at: http://www.pakistan-facts.com/
- Tracy White, "A life for a life: Abraham's obedient faith was rewarded," Think magazine, Focus Press, 2011-FEB, Page 8.
Copyright © 2002 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-OCT-20
Latest update: 2014-JUN-21
Author: B.A. Robinson