Sins of Ignorance

(c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Stoning of Stephen (c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Question: Is it possible for a person to sin without knowing it? Luke 23:34 and I Tim.1:13 teach that the answer is yes. Those who crucified Christ didn’t know the magnitude of their sin but they still needed forgiven, hence Christ’s prayer and Peter’s assertion in Acts 2:23. Paul ignorantly persecuted God’s people but later counts that shameful past as contributing to him being the worst of all sinners. The consciences of the Jews and Paul must still have troubled them because in each case they were persecuting innocent people.

There are many passages in the Pentateuch that speak of sins of ignorance and the offerings required e.g. Leviticus 4:2,14, 22, 27, 5:15, Numbers 15:24, 25, 27, 29,”And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering.” It is noteworthy that all these sins of ignorance are sins of which people are guilty and requiring a sacrifice.

It would appear that ignorance is no excuse for sin presumably because of the truth of Romans 2:15 but what about Acts 17:30? Does ignorance make a sin a different kind of sin? Clearly sin is always sin. This situation would also seem to apply to those in churches where the Westminster Confession of Faith or other erroneous teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage, means they live in adultery without church discipline but MAYBE their consciences are or were pricked? What do you think?

Answer:  I think your remarks are definitely along the right line. Generally, people are not entirely ignorant of the sin but they may be ignorant of “the magnitude of their sin” as you put it. This is why sins against knowledge are so bad and why the son who knew his father’s will and did it not is beaten with so many stripes, as Christ says. Acts 17:30 refers to the Gentiles in OT days. They had the revelation of God in creation (Ps. 19:1ff, Romans 1:18ff.) and in their conscience (Rom. 2:15) but they didn’t know of God’s revelation to Abraham, Moses, Israel, etc. (Yet they still died in their sin because guilty in Adam-JK).

 

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