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Uncovering the Truth: Leviticus 6:1-7 on Forgiveness for Intentional and Unintentional Sins

Updated: Jul 1

I received a question from one of my YouTube subscribers. Drew asked an important question related to Leviticus 6 and whether the sin is forgiven was intentional or unintentional. Here’s my quick response to Drew’s question for your reflection and comments. My response is limited in scope to Leviticus 6:1-7. Question of Forgiveness of Sins

Hi Dr. Harman. I discovered your YouTube channel a couple of days ago while looking for information about the sacrificial system. You did a magnificent job teaching the information as well as shifting the theological truths expressed to be understood today!  I did have one question. Dr. Michael Heiser introduced me to the fact that there was no sacrifice for intentional or “high-handed sin”, and you corroborated that. However, I’m struggling in Leviticus 6:1-7. Aren’t the sins suggested in those passages high-handed, as the person would have to know they’re willingly committing them? And the passage prescribes sacrifice and forgiveness. Could you correct my thinking here? Thank you very much! Drew


Drew, I hope this helps. I only had a few minutes to work on it, but I think this should help. Please let me know. By the way, this is a very good question. Shalom, Terry

Part of the problem in understanding Leviticus 6:1-7, and other portions of the Bible is the plethora of English translations and paraphrases. It can be confusing at times and difficult to know what translation to trust. When translating the original languages of the Bible into another language, including English, no translation is perfect. When translated into English, is easy to miss cultural nuances and historical references that are far removed from the modern reader. Paraphrases such as The Living Bible are not meant to be a word-for-word, literal translation of the original text. To gain insight into the translation you are using read the forward or introduction of that Bible.

To illustrate this issue I'd like to compare two English translations of the passage under discussion.

Leviticus 6:1-7 KJV And the Lord spake to Moses saying, If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered to him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be. Because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered unto him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth in the day of his trespass offering. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, a am without blemish out of his flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering unto the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.

Leviticus 6:1-7 Jewish Orthodox Bible

And Hashem spoke unto Moshe, saying, If a nefesh sin, and commit a ma’al (trespass) against Hashem, and deceives his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or entrusted to his care, or in a thing stolen, or hath cheated his neighbor; Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth with sheker (falsely); in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein; Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is ashem (guilty), that he shall return that which he had stolen, or the thing which he hath extorted, or that which was delivered unto his trust, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he hath sworn lasheker (falsely); he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his asham (trespass offering). And he shall bring his asham (trespass offering) unto Hashem, a ram tamim (without blemish) out of the flock, with thy estimation, for an asham (trespass offering), unto the kohen; And the kohen shall make kapporah for him before Hashem; and it shall be forgiven him for anything of all that he hath done that made him guilty.

The meaning of "Sin"

Hebrew חָטָא Transliteration: chata (khaw-taw)

A basic definition of the Hebrew word here translated as "sin," may be understood as “to do wrong”

“to commit a mistake or an error”

“to make to miss the mark”

“to miss the mark”

“to miss the way”

I believe a Hebrew word picture is painted here to help us understand the word translated as "sin." "Chata" may be used when an archer takes aim at the target or bullseye. He INTENDS to hit the bullseye and not "miss the mark" or have the arrow "go astray" and miss the target altogether. In my opinion, what is being judged in Leviticus 6:1-17 is the person's INTENTIONS. Yes, even though we intend to do the right thing, there are times in our own best efforts we fail. We intended to safe keep an object that was entrusted to us to safeguard and later it is stolen. We intend to return to the rightful owner something that was lost and we found it when asked do we know who it belongs to we reply, "I have no idea who owns it," only later to discover the owner. To the one who questioned us it then may appear we were lying when first questioned about the ownership. It was not our intention to mislead others or defraud others. Here what initially appears to be wrongdoing is not an intentional sin or a shaking of the fist at God saying, "I know what is wrong but I'm going to do it anyway. I want my own way."

The key to understanding sin in Leviticus 6:1-7 is this. Once the person becomes aware and feels "guilty," because he understands the injury to his neighbor, even if unintentional, still created hard feelings or strains the relationship. With this understanding, he must rectify the situation, make amends and attempt to repair the relationship. Specific examples are given.

Example 1:

An object entrusted for you to keep or hold for a neighbor ends up being stolen, not your intention but still your responsibility because you said you would keep it safe.

Example 2:

You find something that someone else lost. Somehow someone asks you if you saw anything or found anything and you give a quick answer or don't even come forward because you are too busy or distracted with other things. Or you find something and you clearly understand its value but at the time you do nothing to find the owner. God is not going to let you off the hook for doing the right thing!

Intentionally Not Doing the Right Thing

Hebrew חָטָא Transliteration: ma'al (maw-al)

The key here is once you know something is wrong it may be because God or your reading of scriptures has pricked your conscience. The small still voice spoke inside you and said, "Hey you know this has to be made right."

We see a shift in the passage. Once you feel guilty or your conscience is pricked, you go from "Chata" to "ma'al (maw-al "to act unfaithfully or treacherously") if you do nothing to make this right. Now, the "ma'al" is not against your neighbor but against God because you have been made aware of the wrong and you refuse to do nothing about it.

Knowing the Right Thing to Do

Few people would disagree with the mantra: "Do the right thing." I chose to believe most people would try to "do the right thing" most of the time when faced with a dilemma. Surprisingly, that is not the hardest part of doing the right thing. This week I recalled a scene from the movie, "The Confession" starring Ben Kingsley.

This is an emotionally powerful film about the death of a father's child. He holds his child in his arms while waiting interminably for treatment in multiple emergency rooms. The film reveals how he struggled with the enormous loss of his child. The hardest part of knowing the right thing to do is stated eloquently by Kingsley.

"It's not hard to do the right thing; in fact it's easy. What's hard is knowing what the right thing to do is. Once you know that, and believe it, doing the right thing is easy."

May we always seek to do the right thing even when it is difficult to know the right thing to do.

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