The Scapegoat in the Writings of Ellen G. White1

While all the statements from Ellen White speak of the scapegoat as representing Satan, why would one—and only one—statement apply the scapegoat to Christ? An investigation.

Alberto R. Timm, PhD, is associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

The identification and eschatological meaning of the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 has generated much discussion in academic circles. Within ancient Jewish tradition, the scapegoat was always seen as a demonic being.2 But since the postapostolic period, many Christian expositors have tried to identify it with Christ and His sacrificial death. Seventh-day Adventists have stressed a clear distinction between the goats of Leviticus 16:8, considering the one “for the Lord” as a type of Christ, and the one “for the scapegoat [Heb. Azazel]” as representing Satan. Ellen G. White also expressed this view.

This article provides a chronologi­cal survey of Ellen White’s statements on the antitypical scapegoat. The dis­cussion begins with O. R. L. Crosier’s contribution that laid the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist understand­ing of the subject, continues with Ellen White’s early and later statements related to the topic, and ends with some remarks on an unusual manu­script that completely departs from all her other writings and Seventh-day Adventist thought in general.

O. R. L. Crosier’s contribution

The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary (Dan. 8:14; Heb. 9:23) and the final role of Satan as the eschatological scapegoat (Lev. 16; Rev. 20) were largely shaped by the biblical interpretations presented in O. R. L. Crosier’s article “The Law of Moses,” published in the Day-Star Extra on February 7, 1846.3 In his treatment of the scapegoat, Crosier presented eight major reasons why the scapegoat should be identified as Satan and argued that “ignorance of the law and its meaning is the only possible origin that can be assigned for the opinion that the scape­goat was a type of Christ.”4

Crosier’s views of Satan as the antitypical scapegoat were fully accepted by early Sabbatarian Adventists, and Crosier’s arguments would be echoed consistently within Seventh-day Adventist literature on the topic, including Ellen White’s writings. Noteworthy already in 1847, A Word to the “Little Flock” came off the press with the following endorsing paragraph from her pen: “The Lord shew me in vision, more than one year ago, that Brother Crosier had the true light, on the cleansing of the Sanctuary, &c; and that it was his will, that Brother C. should write out the view which he gave us in the Day-Star, Extra, February 7, 1846. I feel fully authorized by the Lord, to recommend that Extra, to every saint.”5

By searching her published and unpublished writings, one can see that Ellen White continued to speak of Satan as the antitypical scapegoat.

Ellen White’s early statements

In the summer of 1849, Ellen White stated that the sins confessed before the time of trouble “will be placed on the scapegoat and borne away.”6 On August 4, 1850, she wrote a letter encouraging the Hastings family “to pray much that their sins may be confessed upon the head of the scape goat and borne away into the land of forgetfulness.”7 Neither of the two statements provides any significant clue as to the identification of the scapegoat. But a couple of months later in October 23, 1850, she saw in a vision that after Jesus finishes His work in the heavenly sanctuary.

He will come to the door of the tabernacle, or door of the first apartment, and confess the sins of Israel upon the head of the scape goat. Then He will put on the garments of vengeance. Then the plagues come upon the wicked, and they do not come until Jesus puts on the garments of vengeance and takes His seat upon the great white cloud. Then while the plagues are falling the scape goat is being led away. He makes a mighty struggle to escape, but he is held fast by the hand that bears him away. . . .As Jesus passed through the holy place or first apartment, to the door to confess the sins of Israel on the scape goat, an angel said, This apartment is called the sanctuary.8

This statement provides insightful glimpses towards the identification of the scapegoat. As Leviticus 16:8 distinguished the goat “for the Lord” from the goat “for the scapegoat,” so did Ellen White distinguish Jesus from the eschatological scapegoat. The distinction becomes even more evident when she says that Jesus Himself, as our true High Priest, will confess the sins of God’s people “upon the head of the scape goat,” and that “while the plagues are falling the scape goat is being led away.” In addition, the scapegoat’s “mighty struggle to escape” from his tragic exilic death avoids any identification of that goat with Christ. Even without mentioning Satan by name, it is more than evident that Ellen White had him in mind as the true scapegoat.

By 1850, Sabbatarian Adventists already had a clear understanding of the scapegoat, which was never chal­lenged within the denomination. For more than 30 years, Ellen White made no further mention of the “scapegoat” in her writings.

Ellen White’s later statements

In the 1880s and 1890s, Ellen White penned her strongest arguments about Satan as the eschatological scapegoat. In the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (chap. 18, “The Sanctuary”), one reads the following words:

It was seen, also, that while the sin-offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the high priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scape-goat typified Satan, the author of sin, upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed. When the high priest, by virtue of the blood of the sin-offering, removed the sins from the sanctuary, he placed them upon the scape-goat. When Christ, by virtue of his own blood, removes the sins of his people from the heavenly sanctuary at the close of his ministration, he will place them upon Satan, who, in the execution of the judgment, must bear the final penalty. The scape­goat was sent away into a land not inhabited, never to come again into the congregation of Israel. So will Satan be forever banished from the presence of God and his people, and he will be blotted from existence in the final destruction of sin and sinners.9

The 1888 revised and enlarged edition of The Great Controversy not only preserved (in chap. 23, “What Is the Sanctuary?”) the paragraph quoted above but also added two more statements on the same sub­ject.10 In chapter 28, “The Investigative Judgment,” she says,

As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scape­goat, so Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, the originator and instigator of sin. The scape­goat, bearing the sins of Israel, was sent away “unto a land not inhabited;” [Lev. 16:22] so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit, will be for a thousand years confined to the earth, which will then be desolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer the full penalty of sin, in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked.11

And again in chapter 41, “Desolation of the Earth,” Ellen White reinforced the same concept that “as the scape-goat was sent away into a land not inhabited, so Satan will be banished to the desolate earth, an uninhabited and dreary wilderness.”12

These three statements were pre­served with their original wordings in the 1911 revised edition of The Great Controversy, except that “scape­goat” (with hyphen) was replaced by “scapegoat” (without hyphen).13 Similar concepts were expressed also in 1890 and 1895.14 In her Patriarchs and Prophets, she argued that “since Satan is the originator of sin, the direct instigator of all the sins that caused the death of the Son of God, justice demands that Satan shall suffer the final punishment.”15

From the statements quoted above, clearly Ellen White consistently identified Satan as the eschatological scapegoat. Yet, there is one puzzling statement from 1897 that deserves special consideration.

An unusual statement

Manuscript 112, 1897, titled “Before Pilate and Herod,” is a 19-page typed document with typical editorial correc­tions by Ellen White’s secretaries (most of which were made by Maggie Hare), and stamped with “E. G. White” after the end of the content of page 19. This was the usual procedure in her office when making multiple carbon copies of an Ellen White manuscript. There are only three original typewritten copies of this manuscript. One of them contains all 19 pages, and the other two, including the file copy, end on page 17 with the last paragraph of page 17 cut off and pages 18 and 19 omitted.

The overall content of the deleted pages is not unusual except for the first paragraph of page 18, dealing specifically with the “scapegoat.” That paragraph reads as follows: 

Some apply the solemn type, the scape goat, to Satan. This is not correct. He cannot bear his own sins. At the choosing of Barabbas, Pilate washed his hands. He cannot be represented as the scape goat. The awful cry, uttered with a hasty awful recklessness, by the Satan inspired multitude, swelling louder and louder, reaches up to the throne of God, His blood be upon us and upon our children. Christ was the scape goat, which the type represents. He alone can be represented by the goat borne into the wilderness. He alone, over whom death had no power, was able to bear our sins.16

This 1897 statement departs completely from everything else Ellen White wrote on the subject either before (as confirmed by the quotations above) or later (as presented in the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy). In the 1911 edition, prepared under her own supervision,17 she still spoke of the post-1844 era as the “antitypical Day of Atonement”18 that will culminate with the final destruction of Satan, at the end of the 1,000 years of Revelation 20, as the antitypical “scapegoat.”19 So no convincing reason exists to believe that she ever changed her mind on the subject. 


Seventh-day Adventists accepted O. R. L. Crosier’s biblical arguments that Satan is the antitypical scapegoat that comes into action at the time of Christ’s second advent. Ellen White not only shared the same views but also taught them consistently throughout her writings. The existence of a single typed paragraph of questionable origin, speaking of Christ instead of Satan as the antitypical scapegoat, should not be used as evidence that she changed her mind on that subject. If that were the case, we would expect to find such a change reflected in her post-1897 writings. This would have changed her entire eschatological framework,
shifting both the antitypical scapegoat from Satan to Christ and the antitypical Day of Atonement from the post-1844 era back to the Cross. But none of her writings reflects such a change.

Regardless of how this questionable passage became part of Manuscript 112, 1897, the statement should be viewed as exceptional. It does not provide a reason
for anyone to fall into the dangerous fallacy of “generalization,” by which one or a few exceptions are generalized as the overall rule.20 Ellen White’s writings provide enough evidences that, up to the end of her life, she continued to identify Satan as the eschatological scapegoat.

Yet, we are left with some obvious questions: Did Ellen White herself write that unusual paragraph? How did it become part of one of her manuscripts? And when was it cut from the fuller manuscript? We know only that the shortened copy is what was on file when the collection of her unpublished writings was microfilmed for safekeeping in 1951. But no additional information has been found to help answer those questions. Therefore, any attempt to answer those questions remains in the  speculative realm.

What we do know is that everywhere else in Ellen G. White’s comments she identifies the scapegoat as Satan. And the other known fact is that Ellen White never incorporated this passage in her published works, although other lines from the manuscript were used.21 Thus, although we do not have clear answers about the actual origin of this unique paragraph, there is no uncertainty regarding Ellen White’s lifelong understanding of the identity of the antitypical scapegoat.


1 For an expanded version of this article, please visit www

2 See Robert Helm, “Azazel in Early Jewish Tradition,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 32, no. 3 (Autumn 1994): 217–226; William H. Shea, “Azazel in the Pseudepigrapha,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 13, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 1–9.

3 O. R. L. Crosier, “The Law of Moses,” Day-Star Extra, February 7, 1846, 37–44.

4 Ibid., 43.

5 Ellen G. White, “To Bro. Eli Curtis,” in James White, ed., A Word to the “Little Flock” (Brunswick, ME: James White, 1847), 12.

6 Ellen G. White, “Synopsis of Remarks in E. G. White’s Vision, June 30, 1849, at Rocky Hill, Connecticut,” MS 6, 1849, Ellen G. White Estate.

7 Ellen G. White, “Dear Sister Arabella,” letter 8, August 4, 1850, Ellen G. White Estate; published in Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 19 (Silver Spring, MD: E. G. White Estate, 1993), 131, 132.

8 Ellen G. White, “A Vision Given on October 23, 1850,” MS 15, 1850, Ellen G. White Estate.

9 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan From the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Controversy, vol. 4 of The Spirit of Prophecy (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1884), 266, 267.

10 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan During the Christian Dispensation, rev. and enl. ed. (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1888), 422.

11 Ibid., 485, 486.

12 Ibid., 658.

13 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan: The Conflict of the Ages in the Christian Dispensation (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 422, 485, 486, 658.

14 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, or The Great Conflict Between Good and Evil as Illustrated in the Lives of Holy Men of Old (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1890), 358; Ellen G. White, “The Words  and Works of Satan Repeated in the World,” Signs of the Times, April 28, 1890, 258; Ellen G. White, “The Whole Duty of Man,”  Signs of the Times, May 16, 1895, 4; republished in Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 355, 356.

15 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 358.

16 Ellen G. White, “Before Pilate and Herod,” MS 112, 1897, Ellen G. White Estate.

17 See Arthur L. White, The Later Elmshaven Years, 1905–1915, vol. 6 of Ellen G. White (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1982), 302–337.

18 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (1911), 431.

19 Ibid., 422, 485, 486, 658.

20 See David H. Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 103–130.

21 Some sentences and expressions of MS 112, 1897, 13 (dealing with Barabbas), appeared in The Desire of Ages (Oakland: Pacific Press, 1898), 733. On page 18 of the manuscript, in the paragraph that follows the problematic statement on the scapegoat, one finds the following statement: “Their prayer was heard. The blood of the Son of God was upon their children and their children’s children in a living perpetual curse. The children of Israel who chose Barabbas in the place of Christ will feel the cruelty of Barabbas as long as time shall last. ” With slight editings, this statement appeared in The Desire of Ages, 739.

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Alberto R. Timm, PhD, is associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

October 2013

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