The Bible has one law for unintentional sin, and another law for intentional sin
The Bible makes a distinction between unintentional sin and intentional sin. This is important when we consider how we, as Christians, are to respond to domestic abusers.
The distinction is set out in the Law which Moses gave to the people of Israel. Numbers 15:22-31, NKJ –
Laws Concerning Unintentional Sin
If you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the Lord has spoken to Moses— all that the Lord has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations— then it will be, if it is unintentionally committed, without the knowledge of the congregation, that the whole congregation shall offer one young bull as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was unintentional; they shall bring their offering, an offering made by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their unintended sin. It shall be forgiven the whole congregation of the children of Israel and the stranger who dwells among them, because all the people did it unintentionally.
And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the Lord, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them.
Law Concerning Presumptuous Sin
But the person who does anything [e]presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one [f]brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be [g]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 shall be upon him.
[e] defiantly, lit. with a high hand
[g] put to death
Here it is again in the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 17:8-13 NKJ emphasis added –
If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.
Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.
The wrath of the Law for intentional sinners is reiterated by John the Baptist and Jesus
Here is John the Baptist speaking to abusers (Pharisees and Sadducees) who were hypocritically asking for baptism:
Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matt 3:7; Luke 3:7 NKJ)
And here is Jesus speaking to the Pharisees:
Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? (Matt 12:34 NKJ)
Serpents and offspring of vipers, how can you escape the judgment of hell? (Matt 23:33 NMB)
The Apostle Peter talks about presumptuous sin
2 Peter 2:9-22 NMB, emphasis added –
So then, the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of affliction, and how to reserve the unjust for the day of judgment, to be punished; namely those who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise authority. Presumptuous they are, and stubborn, and fear not to speak evil of those who are in authority, whereas the angels, who are greater both in power and might, do not bring railing judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like brute beasts by nature born to be captured and destroyed, speak evil of that which they do not understand, and shall perish through their own destruction, and receive the reward of unrighteousness.
They count it pleasure to live deliciously for a season. Spots they are, and vileness, living at pleasure, and in deceptive ways feasting with you, having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease to sin, beguiling unstable souls. Hearts they have exercised with covetousness. They are cursed children, and have forsaken the right way, and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the reward of unrighteousness – but was rebuked for his iniquity: the tame and dumb beast, speaking with man’s voice, opposed the foolishness of the prophet.
These are wells without water, and clouds carried about by a tempest, for whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever. For when they have spoken the swelling words of vanity, they beguile with wantonness through the lusts of the flesh those who were clean escaped, but now are wrapped in errors. They promise them liberty, and are themselves the bond-servants of corruption. For by whomever a person is overcome, to him he is in bondage.
For if, after they have escaped from the corruption of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and of the Saviour Jesus Christ, they are yet tangled again in it and overcome, then is the latter end worse with them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment given to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb: The dog is turned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.
Paul says he received mercy because he did not sin against God’s people intentionally
Before I was a blasphemer and a persecutor, and full of violence. But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly, through unbelief. (1 Tim 1:13)
What lessons can we draw from all this?
Even unbelievers instinctively know that there is a difference between intentional sin and unintentional sin.
And abusers know how much leverage they can get if they convince people that they ‘didn’t mean to hurt anyone’.
But very few pastors these days expound on how God’s Law distinguishes between intentional sin and unintentional sin. Furthermore, I suggest that few biblical counselors are detecting how intentional are the sins of abusers.
I am publishing this post today because I will be referring to it in my Chris Moles series.
Further reading and listening
The baptism of John the Baptist – sermon by Ps Jeff Crippen