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?


The Old Testament is clear that only unintentional sins can be atoned for:

One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether a native- born Israelite or a foreigner residing among you. “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native- born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. (Numbers 15:29-30, NIV)

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).

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32, NIV)

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.

Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39, NIV)

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    Good points. All that high priest activity could not take away the guilty conscience that was ever before the Jew because of intentional sins; and did not even offer to. The sacrificial work of Christ at Calvary, as impressed upon the sinner by the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16) is the only sacrifice that purges those willful sins and frees our conscience. And unlike the high priest's sacrifice for sins of ignorance that was repeated annually, there is no further sacrifices for willful sins. So, we sinners better accept the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary while the offer stands. – Deef McStrabe Feb 7 '17 at 12:33

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'.


I do believe that the context in which these sacrifices were given needs to be strongly considered. When God gave Moses the design for the tabernacle beginning in Exodus 25, Israel had just signed onto the Mosaic covenant "All that the Lord has said we will do." Israel had now been turned from a people into a nation with a constitution to which the citizens had given attestation. Laws had been laid out in chapters 20-24, which now required adherence because of the people's impetuous response.

God, knowing the nature of man, anticipated the people's inability to keep what they had just promised. So He provided a provision for when the people would break this Constitution. And the Constitution was necessary for maintaining law and order in this nation.

John Adams, concerning the US Constitution, was quoted as saying "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other". I hold that what applied to Adams' attitude concerning the US Constitution, applies very much to the law of Moses.

This new wilderness wandering nation, Israel, could only succeed if it were "moral and religious". The morality was found in the dos and don'ts of the law. The "religion" was dependent upon a universal recognition of the nature of this God who made up this law as well as an appreciation for both His justice and the utter depth of His mercy provided by the intricate and solemn details of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system. Only such a people would maintain a national cohesiveness!

Hence, intentional breaking of this law, was, as the first contributor pointed out, an act of sedition or mutiny. It was not only an affront to God but an attack on the very fabric of the nation, and could not be allowed (as that was the very nature of the Adversarys (Satan's) attack on the kingdom of God). Hence, the sacrificial system provided no provision for such an act.

In Jeremiah 31, because of Israel's consistent breaking of the Constitution, God signed a certificate of divorce to the nation (not the people - i.e. "I will make a new covenant with the house of David..." but the nation). Israel lost its autonomy as a nation. It fell into the hands of the Babylonians, Greeks, etc. and never gained back its autonomy until 1948. In light of that the Mosaic Constitution lost its relevance. In particular, no longer were the people required to be faithful to the Constitution of the nation of Israel, but to those elements which were moral within the Constitutions of the lands to which they'd been scattered. Those constitutions were imperfect, unlike the Mosaic Constitution, and provided literal discouragement towards keeping the Mosaic law concerning Sabbath worship, keeping of dietary laws, etc. In many cases, intentional sin would now become the norm within a culture in contrast to righteousness as was intended to be the norm in ancient Israel. But, even as God had provided the tabernacle for provision of sin, God did provide a better provision... Jesus. The genuine believer in Jesus, however, must now think of himself as a member of a new nation or family and his endeavors should be with the intent of enabling that nation/family to thrive. Often he finds himself swimming against the stream of the nation in which he finds himself.

Contrary to the state of the original Israelites, sometimes the laws of said nation to which they'd found themselves, ran counter to the Mosaic laws of God. This creates an even greater dilemma for the one who has commited himself to trusting Jesus. And God no longer had a literal nation to maintain, hence, the grace found in Jesus, of necessity, far exceeded that found in the tabernacle. He does atone for intentional sin as long as it is accompanied by genuine repentence.


The sin and trespass offerings used only for sins of ignorance make me feel hopeless. Indeed, Israel went through 10 cycles of falling away and being rescued by God during the 300 years of the judges just after Moses' time. The only hint that God would forgive intentional sin in the trespass offering is in Lev. 6:1-5 and then it only covers lying and steeling. It is ironic that God had chosen a murderer (Moses) to document this and murder isn't mentioned here. Heb. 10 tells us if we sin willfully after receiving a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for us. Heb. 6 says if we fall away after being partakers of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to repent. Things I have read in this article and studied in the sacrifices that cover only sins of ignorance make the human race seem hopeless.
However, Jesus is our High Priest. He has His high Priests garments, each of which represents atonement for specific types of sins: Arrogance, errors in judgment, sins of the heart, idolatry, evil speech, killing and sexual sin. Christ overcame in all points. He came to seek and save the lost. He forgave the adulteress, the tax collector Zacheus and the thief on the cross. He cast demons out of totally possessed people. These people were involved and delivered from intentional sin. Christ gave the story of the prodigal son who was welcomed by His Father with open arms when he returned. He came to seek and save the lost and gave Himself as the Sacrifice. Heb 10:14 "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified". Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. He wants us to live without sin but if we stumble, He wants us to repent. "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins..." 1 John, 2:1-2.
In Jesus, there is hope.

  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel is protesting Dec 30 '16 at 17:21
  • Most of this answer does not answer the question, which is abut the Old Testament, not the New Testament. And that small part of it that is at least on-topic doesn't provide any real discussion of the passage in question (Leviticus 6:1-5) such that it could be considered a real answer to the question. – Lee Woofenden Mar 18 '17 at 18:10

To suggest that all sin, both intential and not were not forgiven after a proper sacrifice was offered, simply because the word, "intential" is not used, places the forgiving power of God at odds with His mercy. Remember, the word, "trinity" is not found in scripture yet it exists.
On another note-the comment made that the sacrifices of the ot were useless is just a total misunderstanding of scripture. To say they only pointed toward Christ ia again another misunderstanding of scripture. There is a clear and present lack of theological understanding on your part. You strive to show yourself knowledgeable by quoting passages but your logic is flawed. Be blessed and rethink your theology for the good of yourself and others.

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    Welcome! We're glad you are here, but this answer would be much stronger if you showed, with sources, that it reflects the views of some Christian tradition and isn't merely your own analysis. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 9 '16 at 11:55
  • The question is limited to the OT sacrificial system, and your answer does not address that. – Bit Chaser Dec 30 '16 at 18:32

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