Education Bug - a complete listing of educational resources

Follow EducationBug on Twitter

Language Arts


The popular term scapegoat is commonly used throughout the English language, and has been for centuries. The definition behind the term is due to a mistranslation made hundreds of years ago. This article takes a look at the meaning and history of scapegoat.

We know a scapegoat to be someone who takes the blame for someone else. The idea for this popular term actually is originally a biblical reference. A whipping boy is another reference of the definition. The word scapegoat is derived from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word Azazel. An early Green translation of the Old Testament incorrectly translated the word to mean "the goat sent out" instead of its literal translation: "the goat that departs." The error continued to perpetuate throughout history eventually taking on the meaning of "emissary goat," which later became "escape goat" before it became the term we use today: "scapegoat."

Aside from the misunderstanding of the original translation, the idea behind scapegoat was first used to describe biblical references of Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice to be killed on the cross on behalf of all mankind's sins. Sacrificing animals was a part of daily ritual in Israel. However, on the Day of Atonement (known as Yom Kippur,) the priest would make sin offerings for himself, his family and all of Israel. The nations sins would be placed on the "scapegoat," which would then be led out into the wilderness and released rather than being part of the usual sacrifice. Evidence of this can be referenced several places in the bible in the book of Leviticus including:
  • "He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat." (Lev 16:8 NIV)
  • "Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering." (Lev 16:9 NIV)
  • "He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins - and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task." (Lev 16:21 NIV) 
The term scapegoat is one popular term that has stood the test of time after literally being used for centuries. Although many believe the popular phrase or saying began as a meaning to describe Jesus Christ as the ultimate scapegoat, the term is still appropriate to use today to describe any person who takes unwarranted fault or blame for a negative repercussion. 
Related Articles
Cry Wolf