When reading through the law in the Old Testament it seems that there are only sacrifices for unintentional sins. Is this true? How does the New Testament handle intentional sins such as drunkenness, lust, bad habits, etc? And, how does the Old Testament deal with these sins as far as forgiveness goes?
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The Old Testament is clear that only unintentional sins can be atoned for:
The idea of 'intentional' is better understood as 'defiant' or 'high handed'. Unintentional therefore includes many sins committed due to want of knowledge, through weakness, or where the offender did not really understand his guilt. Intentional sin, is not that you were consciously aware of sinning, like when King David committed adultery, rather it is more of a public defiance against the covenant, like the man stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32), just after God had declared that the whole camp should not work on the Sabbath. This open rebellion during the establishment of the ceremony was like a spirit of mutiny on a ship at sea. This is what 'intentional' means in this context.
The punishment of 'cut off' is understood differently by various ancient and modern commentators. However as many 'high handed' sins were punishable by death, the term should not be confused with excommunication as some sins incurred but as in literally being put to death. Naturally their is no atonement for that.
In the New Testament this 'cutting off'' is referred to in three ways.
First as 'intentional sin' is actually open unrepentant rebellion to God. This has a corresponding reality in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4).
Second in showing when people commit great sins that seem like blasphemy but are not due to 'ignorance', such as Peter's sermon in Acts which implied many Jews killed Christ 'in ignorance' (Acts 3:17). Peter is saying, 'Even though it seems that you have 'intentionally' sinned when killing Christ, many of you did not actually blaspheme the Holy Spirit because you did it in 'ignorance', so I offer you today atonement even for that sin through Christ.'
Third, for sins where capital punishment was the penalty but not necessarily implying a 'high handed' full rebellion from the covenant, the New Testament provides an atoning sacrifice in Christ, including murder, adultery, etc. Therefore being put to death for sin in the Old Testament is not to imply that each offender could not be forgiven by faith, just not forgiven by Mosaic Law.
One additional point which should be noted is that according to Hebrews, even Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) only covers 'sins of ignorance':
'But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance' (Heb 9:7, NIV)
It would indeed seem that Old Testament sacrifices did not cover anything beyond 'sins of ignorance'.
There is no issue with the categories of intentional (willful) sin verses unintentional. There are times that we make a mistake and sin without foreknowledge and pre-planning. But there are also times when someone knows that something is wrong and choosing to intentionally do it anyways. There was not atonement for those willful sins in the OT. Now in the NT, I think it needs to be understood this way. I strike a middle ground between eternal security and a holiness doctrine of sinless perfection. I do not believe we go to hell because we make a mistake and sin, but I do believe that if we willfully and knowingly continue in that sin, then there is no more sacrifice covering our sin (Hebrews 10:26) and fresh repentance needs to be made and changes made in one's life or else you will die in a state of apostasy.
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