King David realized how difficult it is be aware of all our sins:
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me...” Psalm 19:12-13
This passage gives an explanation of unintentional and intentional sins. Basically unintentional sins are sins of which a person is not fully aware; intentional sins are sins that a person knows are wrong and yet continues to do.
Unintentional sins had to be atoned for by sacrifice in the Old Testament of the Bible. Unintentional sins were sins forbidden in the Lord’s commands of which the priest, whole community, leader or member of the community were not aware were sin: “…When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands--” Leviticus 4:2 They also included sinful actions that a person didn’t mean to do or actions that were not sinful, but brought the person into a sinful state. He/they were guilty, but could be forgiven with the proper sacrifice. The sacrifice required for unintentional sins is described in Leviticus 4 and 5 and Numbers 15.
“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them,” Leviticus 4:2
“'Now if the whole congregation of Israel commits error and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they commit any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and they become guilty;” Leviticus 4:13
“'When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the Lord his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty,” Leviticus 4:22
“'Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty,” Leviticus 4:27
“‘If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the Lord’s holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering.” Leviticus 5:15
“‘Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it will be forgiven him.’” Leviticus 5:17-18
“You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for one who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple.” Ezekiel 45:20 An unintentional sin a sin committed “unintentionally or through ignorance”.
Unintentional sins included accidentally touching a dead carcass or human uncleanness which was forbidden to touch (Leviticus 5:2-3). It included not speaking up as a witness or thoughtlessly taking an oath (Leviticus 5:1, 4). When a person realized he was guilty he had to confess his sin and bring the proper sacrifice (Leviticus 5:5).
An example of an unintentional sin: David in his anger planned to kill Nabal and his men. Nabal had refused to give David’s men provisions after they had watched over Nabal’s sheep during sheep shearing time. Abigail, Nabal’s wife, intervened and brought David supplies, pointing out to him his error: “Now since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed …my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself…” 1 Samuel 25:26-31 It was unintentional in that David in his anger, did not take into account that avenging himself was a sin. Of course, if God had not kept him from this sin, he would have suffered consequences in some way.
In the New Testament Peter told the Jews that they acted in ignorance when they crucified Jesus: "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Acts 3:17 Though it was a very grave sin it was unintentional, at least for some. They did not know it was a sin!
Even though Paul calls himself the worse of sinners, his sins were unintentional because he acted in ignorance and unbelief: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief…But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” 1Timothy 1:13, 16 However, notice he was shown mercy so he would come to believe. Jesus reaches out to us and waits for us to repent, but we must repent in order to receive salvation. In the Old Testament the Israelites had to sacrifice for their sins even though it was done unintentionally or without realizing they were sinning.
The following is my understanding of what an “unintentional sin” would be today:
A man became angry and accidentally took the Lord’s name in vain. He is horrified at the words that came from his mouth. He has sinned (Exodus 20:7), but “without malice aforethought” Deuteronomy 4:42, 19:4
A woman accepted Jesus as her Savior from sin. Later she played bingo (as she usually did) and won. She thanked God for her win and was able to pay her bills.
“He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 28:19-20 Playing bingo is wanting to earn money without working. It is being “one who chases fantasies” and is “eager to get rich.” Bingo operates by taking money from many and giving to a few. It can destroy families, and at the very least, will waste money and time that could be used for God’s kingdom. It can cause a person to “have his fill of poverty” and “not go unpunished.”
Bingo is gambling, and gambling is sin. It is based on “luck” or “chance”. There is no such thing as luck or chance. God is in control or the devil is in control. God is in control in all circumstances except the control He allows the devil because of neglect (people don’t ask or trust God) or because people directly ask the devil to take control, perhaps by performing a ritual.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” Hebrews 13:5 Not being content with what you have and trying to make more in a way that involves “chance” or “luck” is idolizing money. A person who plays bingo is putting his trust in something besides Jesus. The second of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not worship them…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers for the third and fourth generation…” Exodus 20:4-6 Children of those addicted to bingo are more apt to steal or deal dishonestly. If money is the God of the parents, it is likely to be the God of their children.
“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10 The most dangerous consequence of idolizing money is to fall away from belief in God and receive the consequences in this life and the next. “…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...” Philippians 4:12 Being content means having faith that God will supply for our needs spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically.
This woman had never been told nor had been convicted that playing bingo was a sin. Playing bingo at this time was, for her, an unintentional sin. Once this woman realizes it is sin, she should stop playing bingo. Maybe God will reveal to her that bingo is a sin without anyone saying anything. However, if we feel God wants us to say something we need the courage to do so even if we suffer the consequence of being rejected. Because John the Baptist spoke against the sin of Herod and Herodias he was thrown into prison and later beheaded! (Matthew 14 Mark 6 Luke 3:19-20)
Another example of an unintentional sin could be a person who accepts Jesus as Savior and continues smoking not realizing smoking is a sin. The believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and smoking hurts the body. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Smoking may cause death or damage the body. Second-hand smoke is harmful to others. Smoking wastes time and money and can cause damage to property. Most realize smoking is wrong, but have trouble giving it up (God can take it away instantly although He doesn’t always). But a few may continue for awhile in an unintentional sin.
“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3, 27:12 Because of lack of knowledge from his own upbringing or because he is doing some of these things himself, a parent might allow his child to listen to rock music, watch questionable T.V. programs, associate with friends that are a bad influence, etc.The Bible warns against this: “A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26 Anyone can be influenced for harm: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” Proverbs 22:24-25 Paul repeats this message is the New Testament: “Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."” 1 Corinthians 15:33 When the parent becomes aware (because it is unintentional) that he is allowing his child to be exposed to bad influences, he should confess that he has let his child touch an “unclean” thing. He would be wise to plead the blood of Jesus and do all he could to rectify the bad situation. If he doesn’t, he will “suffer for it”.
Divorce could be an unintentional sin: “"I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel” Malachi 2:16 The reason God gives at this point is that divorce hurts children: “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” Malachi 2:15 The way to avoid divorce is to “guard yourself in your spirit.” Don’t allow bitter thoughts against your husband/ wife and do not lust after another. The devil wants to destroy families. The good news is that God wants to bless families and is more than willing to answer a cry for help concerning preserving a family.
It is important to understand that divorce is a sin even though it was allowed in the Old Testament. “"It has been said, `Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32
“Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
"What did Moses command you?" he replied.
They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female.' `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." Mark 10:2-12 (See also Matthew 19:3-9)
A Christian should remain married to an unbeliever if possible: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
If an unbelieving man or woman decides to divorce you and you have no choice in the matter, it is not sin on your part. You should let him/her do so peacefully and continue to pray for him/her.
Marriage is a three way covenant with our spouse and God —whether we realize it or not: “It (wisdom) will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” Proverbs 2:16-17 Notice "the covenant she made before God." She does not know God and ignores His commands. Yet she has made a covenant with Him and is liable to that covenant.
Remarriage is also a sin: “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.” Romans 7:2-3
“A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is--and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 The Bible says that she "is bound to her husband as long as he is alive" and "is bound to her husband as long as he lives." God couldn't be clearer.
Someone who has been remarried should not be an “overseer” or an “elder” in the church. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” 1 Timothy 3:2
“An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Titus 1:6
Even in the Old Testament a spiritual leader was expected to have high standards: " `They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God.” Leviticus 21:7
Often, a person will not want to listen to the truth. But perhaps because he has been deceived or he did not receive the proper teaching or counseling or did not know God well enough to discern His voice, he decided to divorce.
Certainly being divorced against one’s choosing would be unintentional. God knows his heart—perhaps he has committed an unintentional sin.
Another example of what could be an unintentional sin is abortion. Some women come to know Jesus after having had an abortion. Others are new Christians or have fallen away from a close relationship with Jesus. Research shows that in this most vulnerable time of discovering an unwanted pregnancy, over half of women who have abortions are pressured, perhaps by an irresponsible boyfriend or embarrassed parents. Since the philosophy of the world says that women have the right to their own body and that babies aren’t humans until they are born, some women might be confused, not realizing abortion is a sin.
In fact, abortion is a serious sin. Some of the nations around Israel worshiped the god Molech. Worshipping an idol or false god is worshipping a demon: “Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons…” 1 Corinthians 10:19-20 Worshipping this false god often meant sacrificing children to him which the Israelites were forbidden to do: “`Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 18:21
“Molech, (or Molek) was the chief god of the Phoenicians, and Canaanites…Human sacrifices were offered to him, mainly firstborn children…the victims were slowly burned to death in the outstretched arms of this idol, which were metal, hollow and could be heated on the inside. Some say they fell into the fire below…” Smith's Bible Dictionary, Philadelphia, A. J. Holman, Co., Revised Ed., p. 205 Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 168
Molech is mentioned several times in the Bible. The following passage shows how God hated this practice: "Say to the Israelites: `Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.” Leviticus 20:2-5
Abortion is similar to sacrificing children to Molech. It is not intentionally sacrificing children to demons (which Satanists sometimes do), but it is sacrificing children to Satan nevertheless, often to satisfy selfish desires. But some sacrifice children without realizing abortion is a sin. For them it is an unintentional sin.
All of us commit unintentional sins. God doesn’t show us all of our sins at once or we would be overwhelmed. There is always something to correct, but we should not feel condemned. Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice we need: “…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:10 We need only repent (change our mind about our sin and stop sinning) and ask forgiveness of Jesus and those we have hurt. In the case of divorce/remarriage or abortion, to repent means not to justify our sin, but to ask forgiveness.
Intentional sins could not be atoned for by sacrifice in the Old Testament of the Bible. Intentional, deliberate, willful sins such as sacrificing children to the demon god Molech, consulting mediums or spiritists, cursing father or mother, and committing adultery or other sexual misconduct were punishable by death (Leviticus 20).
God even commanded that a man found deliberately gathering wood on the Sabbath be stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-35). The rebellion of Aaron's, the high priest, two oldest sons, Nahab and Abihu, resulted in instant death (Leviticus 10:1-2). King Saul’s failure to totally destroy the Amalekites as God commanded was also rebellion and resulted in his losing the kingdom (1 Samuel 15). His consulting a medium (1 Samuel 28) and committing suicide (1 Samuel 31:4) showed that King Saul had either never really known God or had turned away. Other intentional sins, such as lying and stealing, required full restitution plus adding a fifth of the value (Leviticus 6:1-2).
Willfully sinning is to blaspheme God: "'But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people." Numbers 15:30
Disobeying the leaders God has chosen can also be a serious sin: “The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” Deuteronomy 17:12
Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, the priest God has chosen: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?...Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” Numbers 12:2 But God told them: “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, Moses?” Numbers 12:6-8 Miriam instantly became leprous. Through the prayer of Moses she was restored after remaining outside the camp for seven days.
The following is another example of what happened to those who acted presumptuously against Moses:
“He warned the assembly, "Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins. "So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea:If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.
As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apartand the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions.” Numbers 16:26-32
God does not change. The same applies in the New Testament: “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” 1 John 5:16-17
Probably a sin that does not lead to death is when a Christian does not set out to sin, but is overtaken by temptation. Paul the Apostle understood: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:15-19
A sin that leads to death is a willful, rebellious sin. The difference lies in the condition of the heart. All sin is rebellion against God, not all sin is willful rebellion. It is important to pray for another believer who commits a sin when their sin is not willful and rebellious.
There are intentional willful sins which lead to spiritual death: “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the 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 These people were sinning against the Holy Spirit, in other words, they know the truth in their hearts but chose not to accept or believe it. They even denounce it to such a degree that anything that they call good evil. For example, some evolutionists know that evolution is impossible, but they cling to the theory fearing that not to believe it is to admit there might be a God. However, there are other evolutionists that really are deceived, so we must not give up on people who believe that theory. The same is true of those who say that anyone who thinks homosexuality is wrong is homophobic.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” Hebrews 6:4-6 These people have tasted of the Holy Spirit which shows they have been regarded as Christians at one time. However, it is often hard to determine if someone will return to Jesus when they have fallen away. We should pray for these people to repent and return to God unless we feel clearly that we should not.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-31 It is not our sin as much as knowingly and willingly surrendering to sin that is so dangerous.
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” 2 Peter 2:20-22 These people once knew Jesus, or at least knew about Him in such a way that they were for a time separated from the world. Then they returned to their old ways, perhaps first giving in to sin in small ways and so being deceived to truth.
The following passage sums up the difference between the definition and the consequences of unintentional and intentional sin: “'Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. 'The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven.'You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.'But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 'Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.'" Numbers 15:27-31
Sometimes, only God can judge if a sin is unintentional or intentional.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
1 Chronicles 21 tells the story of David numbering the fighting men of Israel. “Satan…incited David…” 1 Chronicles 21:1 Joab, who was not an example of a godly man, objected, but David, but did it anyway, only afterward having a disastrous consequence inflicted on his people. When was he aware of how great a sin this was in God’s sight?
We often do not clearly understand God’s perspective. Tamar was less guilty than Judah even though she had committed deception and prostitution:
“Judah…and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” Genesis 38:26
“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrew 5:14 The longer we know God and the more we obey Him, the more wisdom we will have to discern good from evil. The less likely we are to commit an “unintentional sin.” We should have patience with new believers—praying for them and “speaking the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15.
A prayer the Apostle Paul prayed for believers:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
A declaration and prayer to pray for ourselves:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:7-14