By Rev. William Henry Cobb, Chiltonville, MASS
The present Article, though a separate investigation, may be regarded as a sequel to the author’s “Meaning of נָשָׂא” in the Bibliotheca Sacra for July, 1873. In that discussion, we were concerned with the various ideas expressed by a single word; in this, with a single idea, by whatever words expressed. In our own language, perhaps in most languages, sin is conceived of as a burden, somehow rolled upon us, and pressing us down till it is somehow lifted off. We have found the metaphor a frequent one in Hebrew literature; we have seen that one may thus bear his own sin, or that of another; we have learned that irrational animals, human beings, God himself, and the Servant of Jehovah foretold in Isaiah 53, all bear the sins of men.
Turning to the New Testament, let us inquire whether Christ, according to these records, had such a burden upon him, and if so, how he bore it.
At the outset we cannot but be surprised that the conception of sin alluded to above is so seldom met with in the writings of the New Testament. We found in the Hebrew more than sixty clear instances in which this figure is made prominent with the single word נָשָׂא; but I am able to discover only one case in the Greek scriptures, aside from the two of which Christ is the subject. That one is 2 Tim. 3:6, silly women laden with sins (σωρεύω). This infrequency is in spite of the fact that sin and its treatment form the entire subject of the divine revelation, and in spite of the further fact that Christ is constantly presented in various relations to sin.
The following is a catalogue of these relations:  Christ forgives sin (passim);  saves from it (Matt. 1:21);  takes it away (John 1:29; 1 John 3:5);  turns men away from it (Acts 3:26);  makes a purification of it (Heb. 1:3);  purifies from it (1 John 1:9);  namely, by his blood (1 John 1:7);  washes from it by his blood (Rev. 1:5);  sheds his blood for its remission (Matt. 26:28);  gives himself that he may redeem from it (Tit. 2:14);  dies unto it (Rom. 6:10);  dies for redemption from it (Heb. 9:15);  is delivered on account of it (Rom. 4:25);  suffers on account of it (1 Pet. 3:18);  gives himself on account of it (Gal. 1:4);  offers up himself a sacrifice for it (Heb. 7:27);  puts it away by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26);  bears it (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24);  expiates it (Heb. 2:17);  is the propitiation for it (1 John 2:2; 4:10);  is made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
It will be seen that there is here not only a variety of relations, but a variety of metaphors to express them. Sin is presented as an enemy ; as an evil path ; as a stain [5 to 8]; as a debt ; as a bandit [10, 12]; as a load , etc. Again, Christ is revealed in these texts not only in his connection with sin, but even more prominently in his relation to the Father, as High Priest, Surety, Victim, etc.; and in his relation to us as Deliverer, Friend, Purifier, Ransom, etc. May it not be that some of these expressions rest originally on the image of bearing a burden, besides the two translated “bear? “This point we must examine.
The only numbers in the catalogue which might seem to admit of this explanation are [1, 3, 13, 14, 15, 19, 21].
As to forgiveness , that is expressed in Hebrew, it is true, by the figure of sustaining the burden of wrong. But in Biblical Greek it is otherwise. The only three words for forgive are ἀπολύω, ἀφίημι, and χαρίζομαι; the two first implying, negatively, the discharge of a debt, the last implying, positively, the granting of a favor. The image in  is of one treated as a criminal, and given over to death for the sins of others. Though Christ might be said to bear our sins in this view, that is not distinctly said of him here.  and  are connected with the two following numbers, as teaching the great sacrifice of Christ. The intimate relation between sacrifice and the bearing of sin will be presently considered; but the two pictures of burning and bearing are in themselves quite separate. To expiate  is not to bear, but to cover (כָּפַר) a hateful object; see ἱλάσκομαι in the Septuagint. Whatever may be our theological explanation of , whether we regard our Lord as merely the representative of sinners, or as literally taking their place, at least there is no direct allusion, in this strong expression, to the bearing of burdens. There remain before us only numbers  and ; and to these four texts let us now address ourselves.
John 1:29. “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” The verb is αἴρω, which is extensively used in the Old Testament as the equivalent of נָשָׂא. We must not allow ourselves on this account, however, to be prejudiced either for or against a particular rendering in this case. It is a great mistake, committed even by those who study the Bible without theological bias, to allow a semi-infallibility to the version of the LXX, when it is well known that in many instances their translation is erroneous, and in many others simply ridiculous. Happily the meaning of a word so frequently used as αἴρω can be determined by a careful comparison of all the passages in which it occurs in the New Testament, without resorting to its uninspired use. The reader will find a table of these passages at the close of this Article.
It will be seen that αἴρω answers better than any other single word to the Hebrew נָשָׂא. It has passed through the same development, take, take up, lift up, carry, take away. Αἴρω , however, is not used, like נָשָׂא, for the idea of bearing when no motion is involved (holding up as distinct from carrying).
On the other hand, take away, which very seldom occurs as the proper translation of נָשָׂא, is frequently that of αἴρω, and in the writings of John this meaning is the prevailing one. We must not go so far as Huther on 1 John 3:5, who calls it the “constant “signification in John; see on the contrary, John 8:59; 5:8–12; 10:24; 11:41; Rev. 10:5; 18:21. But with these exceptions, the idea of taking away is always present, though not always to be expressed. Now as the word occurs twenty-seven times in John, besides the two cases in dispute, we have raised a presumption in favor of the rendering “take away” in these passages. Moreover, as the only dispute with reference to these is between “carry “and “take away,” and as “carry “occurs only in John 5:10 (not the necessary rendering even there), this presumption is strengthened. Still further, 1 John 3:5 seems exactly parallel to the passage before us. There the apostle states the great object of Christ’s appearing; it is αἴρειν τὰς ἁμαρτίας. Here he records the testimony of the Baptist to the same thing; for it is evident that John means to point the multitude to the cardinal characteristic of Jesus as the Messiah. He is ὁ̔ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. Now although the context of this latter verse throws no decisive light upon its meaning, it is otherwise with the passage in the Epistle. The time has gone by when that Epistle was regarded as a string of aphoristic ideas; all the best modern commentators maintain the strict connection of the thought. But that connection is entirely broken if ἄρῃ is rendered carry, and entirely harmonious if it is rendered take away. Space forbids a detailed support of this statement; the reader is referred to Huther’s excellent remarks in his continuation of Meyer’s Commentary (excellent, aside from the philological mistakes noticed and to be noticed), also to Alford, in loco. We conclude that the English version of both these texts is correct, “to take away sin.” But what is the figure lying at the bottom of this phrase? How does Christ take away sin? Not, as we are often told, by simply removing it from the offender, and putting it out of sight. The tempting parallel to 1 John 3:5, namely, Heb. 9:26; (εις αθέτησιν ἁμαρτίας πεφανέρωται) must not blind us to the formal difference between τίθημι and αἴρω, words which suggest exactly opposite images. A careful examination of αἴρω in the Table will show that it, no less than נָשָׂא, permits one to take an object away, only by taking it upon himself. In the two apparent exceptions (Luke 23:18 [=John 19:15 = Acts 21:36; 22:22] and Eph. 4:31) the figure can still be traced. Christ took away our sins, therefore, by taking them upon himself. We go one step further back and ask, How did John get the idea of the Lamb of God who should take away sin? Again referring for the sake of brevity to the able discussions of this question by recent commentators, I simply record my conviction that this idea could only have come from Isa. 53, where Christ is a lamb, and bears sin as a sacrifice, thus taking it away. So Lücke, Tholuck, De Wette, Meyer, Lange, Alford, and many others. We may say then, that while we are to translate by “take away,” and while the idea of deportation is in the foreground of the picture, there is in the background the idea of taking up sin as a load, and bearing it to sacrifice.
Before we pass to the two remaining texts, it may be desirable to examine the usage of two words often associated with the bearing of sin; φέρω and λαμβάνω. The latter occurs Matt. 8:17; αὐτὸς τὰς ἀσθενείας. By a circular process of reasoning it has been held that this points to Christ’s bearing our sins; because (1) it represents Isa. 53:4, where the Sept. is τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν φέρει, and (2) λαμβάνω stands most frequently in the Greek Bible for נָשָׂא with the words for sin. But both these arguments rest only on the authority of the Sept., which in this passage has certainly mistaken the translation.1 Λαμβάνω only means take, get, and receive, and the LXX have erred again in using this as their favorite word to translate נָשָׂא with the Ace of the words for sin.
As to φέρω, the misconceptions of our standard authorities are lamentable. Something was said, in the writer’s previous Article, of the danger of trusting the exegesis of theologians; a caution must now be given against the exegetes also. We confess to being surprised when Huther on 1 John iii. 5 tells us that while נָשָׂא עֲוֹן means both to bear sin and to take it away, the LXX translate it by φέρειν in the latter case and αἴρειν in the former; the facts being that the Hebrew means “to bear sin “even when rendered by αἴρειν, and that it is never rendered by φέρειν at all. As the principle is of some consequence, let us follow Huther to the authority he quotes, viz. Meyer on John 1:29. The latter, referring to Isa. 53, interjects a parenthesis which has been the means of misleading many commentators (נָשָׂא, LXX φέρει, ἀνήνεγκε, ἀνοίσει. Just below he says that the LXX express the bearing of sin by “φέρειν, etc.” But the only passage in the Greek Bible in which φέρειν ἁμαρτίας occurs is this same blundering version of Isa. 53:4, where all the sin is inserted (and committed) by the LXX. The only other place in which φέρειν occurs in any connection with “sin” is Jer. 44:22:“Jehovah could no longer hold out before the evil of your works.” Now as נָשָׂא occurs with the words for sin sixty-five times, and is there translated by seventeen different expressions in the Sept., the assertions of Meyer and Huther become astounding. (I have seen the above parenthesis quoted in a prominent commentary, with the printer’s error, ἀνένεγκε, faithfully copied.)
Returning to the New Testament we find (see Table) that φέρω means to bring, almost never to bear, and nowhere occurs with the words for sin.
To speak more definitely, bear in the sense of sustain appears Heb. 1:3; in the sense of endure Rom. 9:22; Heb. 12:20; 13:13. A tree bears fruit not by holding it up, but by bringing it forth from its substance (John 15:2, etc.) “To carry “differs from “to bring “only by reason of the speaker’s point of view; bring, is to take and come; carry, to take and go. We render “carry “only in Luke 23:26; John 2:8. The passive “borne along “we use in Acts 2:2; 27:15, 17; 2 Pet. 1:21. “Bring” is retained in fifty-five out of the sixty-six passages.2
We come now to ἀναφέρω ἁμαρτίας Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24. To deduce the meaning of this verb we must proceed with all caution, as it occurs only nine times in the whole New Testament. Since the simple verb means bring, we should expect the compound to mean bring- up. This, and no other meaning, fits its first occurrence, Matt. 17:1; καί ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρο͂ ὑψηλόν. The same act is described in the same words, Mark 9:2. Leaving out these, and the two passages in question, there remain five other occurrences of ἀναφέρω, in each of which it is employed in connection with the idea of sacrifice. The context shows the meaning to be “to offer sacrifices.” Literally we should render “to bring sacrifices up,” sc, upon the altar; and this is exactly the way in which the Jews often expressed “to offer sacrifice “in their own language, using the Hiphil of בּוֹא, עָבַר, and עָלָה, to cause to go up, i.e. to bring or carry up. ᾿Αναφέρω, though so seldom used in the New Testament, is found more than a hundred and twenty times in the Sept. (I do not state an exact number, as Conrad Kircher is unreliable.) After examining all these passages, I am prepared to affirm that in nearly every case the radical conception is to bring or bring up. In the great majority of cases the meaning is “to offer,” and that this is simply “to cause to go up,” appears from the frequent addition ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον or τὸν βῶμον,3 Ps. 51:18 ; Lev. 14:20; Num. 23:2, etc.; and especially from the interchange of ἀναβιβάζω and ἀναφέρω, as in Num. 23. (I have dwelt upon this point, not because any one doubts it, but to establish a firm basis upon which to proceed). When, therefore, we read in Jas. 2:21, ἀνενέγκας ᾿Λσαὰκ ἐπί τό θυσιαστήριον, the exact translation is, “When he brought up Isaac upon the altar.” “Offer “is retained in the able 4 as “bring up “would be ambiguous here; but it is evident that thus far ἀναφέρω is simply ἀνά and φέρω. A glance at Heb. 13:5 and 1 Pet. 2:5, shows that these texts come into the same category. We find our verb twice in Heb. 7:27. The high priests had daily necessity to offer sacrifices for sin; Christ did that once, by offering himself. Here, then, our Lord is pictured as carrying himself up upon the altar; being both offerer and victim, and that on account of sins. We are now prepared to examine
1 Pet. 2:24. ̔́Ος τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον. The English version translates ἀνήνεγκεν by a verb of rest. He “bore our sins on the tree,” i.e. as he hung on the tree. But this would require ἐπὶ τῷ ξύλῳ, and as there is no authority for this reading, our version must be wrong. By reason of this accusative, if for no other reason, ἀναφέρω must here be kept to the one meaning thus far developed, and ἀνήνεγκεν ἐπί τὸ ξύλον must equal ἀνενέγκας ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον above. Nor is the sense impaired, but enriched. Who himself carried up our sins in his own body upon the tree, cons, praeg., carried the sins up, and sacrificed them there. How exactly this conforms to the context. Christ suffered for us, that we might follow in his steps (vs. 21); but he did no sin (vs. 22), and we are burdened with sin; how can we follow him? Why, he took our sins off (vs. 24), and carrying them up the dolorous way, immolated them upon the cross, so that now we may become dead to sin, and live to righteousness (vs. 24). This is the ἀθέτησις of Heb. 9:26. Nor is it a contradiction that there and elsewhere Christ is said to sacrifice himself, while here he sacrifices our sins; for our sins are slain in and with him; nailed to his cross, like the ceremonial law. Christ is at once the offerer who brings our sins to sacrifice, and who brings himself to sacrifice. Nowhere is this whole truth better stated than by Calovius: “The cross of Christ was the lofty altar to which, when he was about to offer himself, he ascended, laden with our sins.”
How exactly this conforms to the Jewish typical sacrifices! Christ is the antitype of the high priest, and both the goats of the day of atonement. He loads our sins upon himself, and carries them off by giving his life a sacrifice.
But it is objected that since Peter is quoting Isa. 53:12, as is manifest both from the Sept. and from the context in the Epistle, and since that passage cannot mean “Christ carried up the sins of many,” but “Christ bore them as a burden resting on him,” the latter must be the meaning here. We reply that it is grammatically impossible for the latter to be the meaning here. We must understand the apostle by taking what he says, and not what we suppose he ought to have said. It is easy to save his quotation without sacrificing his grammar. The reference is, we grant, a plain allusion, an interpretation if you will, but yet not an exact quotation. Isaiah says that Christ bore the sins of many. Peter says that he carried our sins to sacrifice. So far he has not said that Christ bore them at all, for Abraham did not bear Isaac when he brought him to the altar. The point of the apostle’s argument is made if Christ has taken away our sin. But Peter does not forget that the language he quotes has a farther import, so in order that his ἀνήνεγκεν may denote the same thing as Isaiah’s, he inserts ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ. If Christ brought our sins to the cross in his own body, he must have been laden with them. Here, therefore, as in John 1:29, we find the great fact that Christ bore our sins, not stated in direct terms, but necessarily involved in the language used, and more distinctly involved than in the former passage. I will add that the translation of ἀναφέρω above given, agrees, so far as I know, with the views of the best modern commentators on this verse. Special attention is asked to the remarks of Vitringa.5
Heb. 9:28. This verse says of Christ προσενεχθεὶς εἰς τὸ Πολλῶν ἀνενεγκεῖν ἁμαρτίας. The singular fact appears of ἀναφέρω as the final cause of προσφέρω. As the latter is the regular word for “offer “in the New Testament, we are confidently told that ἀναφέρω here, at least, cannot mean offer, and must mean bear. Let us see. Προσφέρω occurs forty-six times in the best texts of the New Testament. As ἀναφέρω is etymologically “to bring up,” so προσφέρω is “to bring to,” and this translation may always be retained (except Heb. 12:7). This word is the technical one for offering gifts or sacrifices. Is it meant that these things were “brought to “the altar? A careful study of these texts will convince any one that the meaning always is “to bring to God.” The whole series should be examined in support of this assertion; but it may be sufficient to refer to Acts 7:42; Heb. 11:4; John 16:2 (“will think to bring worship to God “), and especially a passage close to our text, Heb. 9:14. In each case cited, πρός in composition governs τῷ θεῷ (μοι), while the only apparent exception (Matt. 5:23) is not a real one, as προσφέρειν ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον means offer (bring to God) upon the altar. On the use of verbs compounded with πρός see Winer § 52, 4, 14); but his remark on προσφέρειν § 52, 3, is nugatory, as that reading in Luke 12:11 must be abandoned.
Returning now to Heb. 9:28, we translate: So also Christ, once brought to (God) in order to bring up (upon the altar) the sins of many, shall be seen a second time, apart from sin, by those who wait for him to save them.
1. This gives a plain sense, Christ was sacrificed in order to sacrifice sin.
2. It preserves one distinct meaning for ἀναφέρω throughout the New Testament.
3. It is in entire harmony with the context. I might add, with the -whole book of Hebrews, and with the whole Bible; but read especially the ninth and tenth chapters. The great problem was: How shall sin be lifted off the guilty conscience, to return no more? The old ritual could not do it; the teaching and example of Christ could never have done it. A direct word of forgiveness from Christ might lift the burden for that time; but back it would come with the next sin. The sins of many, all their sins, past, present, and to come, considered as ground of condemnation, must be, once for all, destroyed. Since there was no other way, lo, he came, at the end of the ages, to do the will of God. God prepared the body; laid upon him the iniquities of us all; and then in unfathomable love, the Lamb of God, bearing these sins, ascended the altar, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. The sins were thoroughly burned up; they can come no more to accuse us. The next time the Saviour shall appear, those who wait for him unto salvation will see no sin about him, no condemnation, for by one offering he hath perfected the saints forever. It is astonishing that Alford, in loco, after citing this explanation as that of the Peschito, Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and Theophylact, can assert that it “would introduce a new and irrelevant idea, and cannot be maintained.” Par less relevant to the context, at least, is it to say: “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” — whether by way of punishment, or of suffering substituted for punishment.
4. This explanation is in entire harmony with Isa. 53:12. The quotation is more explicit here than in Peter, and should any feel compelled to adopt the meaning “bear,” there is not here, as there, a grammatical objection. But this is not the necessary rendering, for in saying, “Christ was offered to sacrifice the sins of many,” the writer says: Christ was offered to bear upon him the sins of many, and destroy them by his death. The טְא־רַבִּים of the prophecy is translated, and interpreted besides, in the Epistle.
1. The New Testament nowhere declares, ipsissimis verois, that Christ has borne sin. But
2. The New Testament does declare it positively, explicitly, and necessarily, as involved in the meaning of αἴρω and ἀναφέρω in the four texts we have discussed.
3. The only way in which Christ is said in the New Testament to have borne our sins, is by bearing them to sacrifice. A nobler and greater than Winkelreid, has clasped to his bosom all the glittering spears of the law which enslaved us, and thus made way for our liberty. The spears no longer oppose us; they are buried in the body of Christ.
4. The texts we have examined are consistent with the theology of either of the two prevailing schools of Calvinism. As the πολλῶν of the last passage does not refute the New England view, since it may be the qualitative designation of πάντων (Delitzsch), so neither does the κόσμου of John 1:29 refute the Old School, since it may only denote the extension of God’s covenant to both Jew and Gentile. Again, as it is not distinctly stated that Christ bore the punishment of our sins, so neither is it distinctly denied. What is stated is, that the Saviour took upon him, carried to the cross, and immolated with himself, our sins. The statement is highly figurative, as every representation of the subject must be. Both sides agree that what Christ took upon him was our sins as a ground of condemnation. According to the one party this condemnation is removed, because the suffering of our substitute has paid the full penalty of the law; according to the other, this condemnation is removed, because the suffering of our substitute has paid a full equivalent to the law. Neither party can explain why God should accept the punishment, or the substituted suffering, of the innocent Christ; both agree that God is satisfied, and our sins expiated, by the death of Christ. It is simply a different speculative philosophy of the same ineffable facts.
5. In view of the insidious progress, in the church, of a theology which denies these great facts, and makes the death of Christ only a moral motive operating on men, does it not behoove all who believe in the expiation of sin through the blood of Christ to cross hands, instead of swords, and unitedly — Old and New, Calvinists and Arminians — hold up the slain Lamb as the only redemption from the curse of a broken law?
Note. — The writer presents the following Table as an attempt at a critical translation of the passages involved. It is his belief that, owing to the nature of language, the meaning of any word frequently used may be determined by a careful and honest examination of the context wherever it occurs. No one man’s life is long enough to do this for the whole Bible; but if a thousand students were to portion out the work, and execute it faithfully, we should soon have better grammars, lexicons, and translations, of the word of God. In the present case, the writer has aimed at a literal, not a smooth, rendering. Special care has been taken with particles and tenses.
A few words may be needful respecting λαμβάνω.6 The word commonly means to take, when the subject puts forth effort; but sometimes to receive, when he is passive; and sometimes to get, when he receives in consequence of previous effort. The latter word is so often improperly used in English that we are in danger of giving up its use altogether; which would be a great loss to our vigorous tongue. The writer has generally employed it instead of obtain, acquire, etc. as more convenient and expressive. The difference between get and receive is brought out by λαμβάνω and δέχομαι in Matt. 10:41; also by λαμβάνω alone in Matt. 20:9–11 compared with Matt. 25:16–24. The rendering of Phil. 3:12 will certainly be approved by our friends who have “got the blessing,” though it seems Paul hadn’t got so far.
It has been thought best to group the passages according to the natural order of their principal meanings, rather than to present them heterogeneously in the order of their occurrence. By this means, the proportion of the various significations is at once brought into view. But as ἀναφέρω has one consistent meaning throughout, and as the same is true of φέρω, with the exceptions noted on page 480, the above course was not taken with these words.
1) See Bibliotheca Sacra, Meaning of נָשָׂא, Vol. xxx. pp. 442-444.
2) It may be asked why the meanings of λαμβάνω and φέρω are given at length, if they have so little to do with the subject. There is a negative and a positive reason. It would not be easy in any other way to destroy the current belief as to the use of these words. The chief reason, however, is, that the writer has carefully examined these passages in their connections, and (as in his previous Article) wishes to contribute thus much towards the better understanding of the Bible. To himself, the process of these Articles has been worth more than the result. It may be so to others also.
3) Ace. not Dat.
4) Subsequently changed.
5) Vix uno verbo ἔμφασις vocis ἀναφέρειν exprimi potest. Nota ferre et offerre. Primo dicere voluit Petrus Christum portasse peccata nostra, in quantum ilia ipsi erant imposita. Secundo, ita tulisse peccata nostra, ut ea secum obtulerit in altari. Respicit ad animantes, quibus peccata primo imponebantur, quique deinceps peccatis onusti offerebantur. Sed in quam aram? ξύλον, ait Petrus, lignum, hoc est, crucem. — See, also, Winer, who quotes this passage, N. T. Grammar, § 52, 4, 2) c).
6) See footnote, p. 480.
7) In all the passages under each main division, the verb expresses the same idea. But occasionally other words are more suitable in the translation. Such words are enclosed in parenthesis at the beginning of their respective sections.
8) It might seem that many passages cited under I. belong here. But when the idea of away is expressed by an additional word (from, out of, hence, etc.), it seems superfluous to incorporate it with the verb.
9) δτι recitantis is best translated by quotation marks.
10) Impf. doubtless referring to verse 15. “Received” would be ἔλαβον.
11) May not νῦν here mark the logical conclusion of the paragraph, cf. ἄρα νῦν chap. 8:1. So frequently in the sense “Since these things are so,” Robinson’s Lexicon, s. v. 2, 6. Thus we preserve the aorist, which Paul does not use for the perfect.