Monday, January 23, 2012

The Sin and Trespass Offerings: A Comparison and Contrast



(A paper from my early days of Bible college)



What is a sin of “ignorance”?
A sin of ignorance is a transgression of God’s law committed without the knowledge of the offender. Either the offender is unaware of the law or he is unaware of his violation of the law. Ignorance of a law does not negate that law. Regardless of the knowledge (or lack thereof) of those governed by the law, the law remains the same. God’s law is separate from us, external, and is in no way changed by our perception (or lack of perception) of it.

What makes a sin a sin?
God’s law creates the possibility of sin. If there were no absolute standard from which to deviate there could be no sin. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1Jo 3:4) “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”(Jam 2:10-11) Scripture also defines sin as anything that is not of faith. (Rom 14:23). Sin is sin because God said so. Sin is sin because it is bad for us (Deut 6:24).

Is a person guilty for a sin of ignorance?
Yes. Genesis 20 tells about king Abimelech ignorantly taking Sarah to be his wife. “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” (Gen 20:6) We can infer from this scripture that had the king had sex with Sarah he would have sinned against God in spite of his ignorance of Sarah’s marital status.

Israel was considered “guilty” for sins of ignorance. “And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;” (Lev 4:13) “It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the LORD.” (Lev 5:19)

 God’s Word reveals that Paul persecuted the Church in ignorance. (1 Tim. 1:12,13) Others will do and have done the same sort of thing. “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (Joh 16:2) Can you imagine claiming that such crimes were not really crimes on account of the ignorance of the perpetrators? Those who perpetrate heinous or even, seemingly, not so heinous crimes are guilty regardless of their knowledge of right and wrong. The world crucified the Christ unwittingly. “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, …I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” (Act 3:14-19) “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1Co 2:8)

However, punishment differs according to the knowledge of the offender. “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luk 12:48) God takes ignorance into account when dispensing mercy. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1Ti 1:12-13)

Is atonement necessary for a sin of ignorance?
Yes. “If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering… (Lev 4:3-12) “And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance…When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin… the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the LORD… the priest that is anointed shall bring of the bullock's blood to the tabernacle of the congregation… and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.” (Lev 4:13-20) “When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty…he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish: And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering… and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.” (Lev 4:22-26)

Are all “sins of ignorance” truly ignorance? Are some of them “unintentional sins”?
Leviticus 6:2-5 Describes acts, which hardly seem to be the sorts of errors committed in ignorance. Such sins as “false swearing” or taking something away “violently” or “deceitfully” are included in the trespass offering designated for sins of “ignorance”. Such sins, although known, may not have been premeditation and are therefore lumped in with the unintentional sins. Victor Hamilton provides another thought on this subject in his commentary on the Pentateuch.

To solve the dilemma – how can deliberate sins be forgiven? – we may turn to a variant of Leviticus 5:14 – 6:7 and that is Numbers 5:6 – 8. What is novel and crucial in the passage in Numbers is that confession is essential in the case of a deliberate sin. It must succeed conviction and precede restitution (Num 5:7). Thus the sin moves into the category of inadvertent sin and may be expiated.

Quoting Milgrom he says:

A more correct understanding of this priestly postulate [i.e., that only involuntary wrongdoers are eligible for sacrificial atonement] would be that sacrificial atonement is barred to the unrepentant sinner. (Hamilton, p. 261)

Apparently, there is more to the offering for “sins of ignorance” than simply an offering for acts committed in ignorance of God’s law. It seems that provision was made for sins committed unintentionally and without premeditation.

What is the difference between the so-called “sin of ignorance” and the “sin of trespass”?
The offender did not confess his sin when offering for the sin of ignorance described in chapter four. (Tenney, V, 203) The sin of ignorance was just that…a sin committed in ignorance of the commandments of the Lord. No sacrifice is provided in chapter four for those who sinned with knowledge of the law. The trespass offering in chapter five however covers sins that were not ignorantly committed. These offerings were for “a person who had either deprived another of his rights or had desecrated something holy”. (Dockery, 154) Those who refused to testify under oath or who touched an unclean thing and failed to follow the commandments in Leviticus 11:24-31 were compelled to bring a trespass offering.

And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even. And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even. The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean. And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you. These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind, And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole. These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even. (Lev 11:24-31)

Sins such as lying and robbery were covered in the trespass offering. Such sins were not covered under the sin offering prescribed in chapter four. The trespass offering also differed from the sin offering in that it required restitution to be made for the property damage of the victim.

What is the difference between a “high handed” sin and a “willful” sin?
The “presumptuous” sin of Numbers 15:30-31 is a sin of “bold daring acts of transgression against the fullest evidence, and in despite of the Divine authority…” (Carke, I, p. 668). In the case of a presumptuous sin all repentance is precluded. Those who hold God’s revealed will in contempt cannot be forgiven.*

Unlike a “high handed” sin, a “willful” sin can be forgiven when confessed and forsaken. A willful sin does not necessitate a continual separation from God. Any who will confess and forsake sin, even if they were aware of God’s law when they committed that sin, can find forgiveness from God.






Hamilton, Victor. Handbook on the Pentateuch.
Clarke, I, p. 521,668
Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, V, p. 203
Dockery, Holman Bible Handbook, p. 154

*I should add that they can be forgiven once they have a change of heart. Jesus taught us that all sins will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.