A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

Footnotes:
[e] defiantly, lit. with a high hand
[f]  blasphemes
[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

Let’s Think Some More about What it Means to Have no Conscience

Are all sins equally bad? Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?

The baptism of John the Baptist – sermon by Ps Jeff Crippen

 

11 Comments

  1. It is so interesting to consider this question, and the great evil of intentional sin, and also the evil of whitewashing it.

  2. Helovesme

    What a wonderfully written post. You do such a good job at picking topics that get our brains going and writing it wonderfully so that it fosters discussion.

    I’m beyond positive that most of us have such things as: I didn’t mean it. I am a good person. I am a God fearing man at heart. I did not meant to hurt her. I grabbed her arm, but I didn’t mean to leave bruises. I lost my temper, and things simply got out of hand. I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking at all. I love her (or the kids) with all my heart.

    These kinds of statements are meant with a hidden message: let me off the hook. Don’t hold me accountable. Don’t take this too seriously. Because I am convinced (and trying to convince my victim or anyone else) that I had no intention to hurt her, that should make all the difference.

    If that doesn’t work, it can change to deflecting blame to the victim, as if the abuser had no intention to hurt her, but HER choices changed all that: She pushed my buttons (on purpose, of course). She made me do it because she wouldn’t quite “nagging” or whatnot. MY intentions were good, but hers were bad from the start. So she caused this. If anyone should be held accountable or punished—-it’s her (or at least—both of us, not just me!). This can keep the abuse going, because both of them are seen as being at fault.

    Interesting how we judge ourselves and others around us by questioning their intentions. Their motives. How quickly and easily we change our level of outrage and how much it affects our decision making—when we factor in something so complicated, yet often difficult to discern—-as intentions.

    I personally think that once we’ve made up our minds about who someone is or isn’t, it’s very hard to undo that—even with much evidence that challenges us.

    An example is Joe Paterno from Penn state. Long story short, he was a beloved, idolized football coach who was plainly exposed to have known and covered up knowledge about sexual abuse going on. For those that were determined to still love and idolize him, they claim became: well, he didn’t have malicious and horrible intentions in his enabling and covering up. Basically: he’s still a good man, despite these horrible revelations.

    I had to hear a LOT of such language when I was being abused by my father. Always trying to make him out as if he was not the person he really was, because technically he’s really not that bad, and he means well.

    I question my own intentions constantly. As a recovering people pleaser, this is vital. You must intend (as much as possible!) to please Him and that’s all that matters. When I serve or bless, am I trying to win popularity, or honor the Lord? When I make certain choices, am I serving His righteousness, or my own?

    I can easily attest to massive ignorance on my part, in making many poor choices, trusting false doctrine, not to mention trusting the wrong people. I was young, immature, and came from an abusive childhood that did not equip me where I needed it the most.

    But even mixed into some of that ignorance—was my massive arrogance. Looking back, I can see where the Lord was giving me warning signs and signals, but I ignored or dismissed them. I didn’t realize my choices (or lack thereof) had real consequence.

    I honestly didn’t know better, but at the same time—I didn’t want to know better. I was still “stuck” in that destructive thinking that I knew best, or better than others—even the Lord Himself! I do believe the Lord is working on me for sure, because once you have reaped what you have sowed—you eyes start to open just a bi wider. And of course, the Lord is there to forgive and keep working on you. He is the Potter, and we are the clay.

    Intentions aside, however, when it comes to abusers—we must not be fooled. They are good at lying and trying to convince others that they are truly ignorant and/or unintentional in their motives—through and through. They do not seem to believe that there’s any real arrogance and intention involved in their choices. Nor can they be convinced that they are truly responsible and are not the “victims of their own unintentional doings.”

    Enablers of abuse should also be held to that same standard, IMO. If they will not believe that abusers intentionally abuse, then they have a serious problem. Lack of intention seems to mean that so and so is “not so bad” and “worthy of another chance” or whatnot.

    But the Bible clearly states that sacrifices were made for unintentional sin. There were consequences and real action taken. There was no “off the hook” sort of atmosphere back then.

    There were much harsher consequences for intentional sin, “Because he has despised the word of the Lord.”

    The NT speaks this way, too. Jesus spoke wonderfully about how a bad tree CANNOT bear good fruit. while a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:18)

    Jesus also spoke wonderfully that out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks.

    “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

    Intentions of the heart, and the condition of our hearts—matter so much, that it defines us. What kind of fruit we will produce, and THAT is how we will be known as good or bad tress.,

    • Becoming

      Thank you for the extra thoughts on this. I struggle because I have unintentionally/intentionally chosen sin, and struggle with repentance and grace and shame of my own actions. Because I lived in a confusing mess of a marriage, had tried and tried and tried, and was not aware that leaving could be an option, I was vulnerable and susceptible to the online kindness of a stranger. But I chose to engage. Willfully. And then in the shame and darkness and because it felt like a healthy escape from my situation, and felt like water in the desert, it was very hard to repent and break free.

      But God called to me and granted me a heart able to repent. He is the living water. The Don Hennessy book and the Lundy Bancroft book helped me to more clearly understand my situation.

      Sin is confusing and dark, it entrapps and addicts, and we can’t even understand our own hearts and motives.

      I’m not sure I can say this clearly but I will try. In John 3 it says that God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world. His son Jesus is the light and most condemn themselves by shrinking from the light, hating the light, staying in the dark. Sin wants to hide. Repentance is moving into his light and fixing our eyes on Jesus and letting him change us from within and he removes our shame. Shame is a thing of the shadows and darkness.

      This post was a hard one for me. Struggled and thought on it and decided to comment in case my rambling helps anyone else.

      • Thank you, Becoming! Your comment is really appreciated.

        After I published this post I realised that some of our readers might find it hard… and some might condemn themselves for sinning intentionally… I believe your comment will be a good help to such readers. You’ve articulated the way your conscience pricked you and how you repented and have thus been forgiven. Bless you! 🙂

      • Helovesme

        Thank you so much for commenting, Becoming! I so appreciate you reaching out and taking the time and effort to give voice to your thoughts, and for being so honest as well.

        I agree with Barb that I think you will absolutely be a blessing to others on this site. These are things that are hard to talk about, but it’s so refreshing when we’re given a forum like this to speak freely.

        My details differ from yours, but the thread of struggling with shame and trying to understand myself runs along yours. Trying to balance taking responsibility but also not being excessively hard on myself—to the point where I was hurting myself more than anything.

        I grew up in an abusive home, so that knowledge will set the “tone” for my story! I used to cut myself in an effort to dull the pain. It was also a way to keep from trying to (or succeeding) in killing myself. Little did I realize that those that cut are more than likely to attempt suicide; it does not prevent such an action.

        I did try to kill myself at age 18. I survived, thankfully, but was enormously ashamed. I was not a Christian yet, but when I became one—I still struggled to balance between understanding that what I did was wrong, but that my abusive childhood “set me up” to choose to make such a radical decision. I was responsible, but I was also under a great deal of stress that no human being should have to endure.

        Trying to kill yourself also makes you question what kind of person you are. Before I tried to kill myself, I felt like I was about to explode—and that scared me when I looked back on it. Who was I? Would I try to hurt myself again? How could I have been capable of such a thing? Did I really have “no other choice” in the matter? Should I have tried to call someone for help, or called a suicide hotline? What were my options, really? Would anyone have believed me, or taken me seriously? Did I want my abuser to go to jail? What did I even want, should I have had the courage to call for help?

        After yet another abusive situation with Christians, I fell into a “shopping” mode to fill the emptiness. I was married by then, and I did not tell my spouse the truth about our debt, our lack of savings, and tried to keep him from accessing our accounts. He found out eventually, and now we are doing much better financially (this was quite awhile ago). I only racked up credit card debt on our one credit card, and we were able to pay it off without going bankrupt or other far more serious consequences. But I again struggled and lived with shame for a long time after that. I tried to understand (again) how I had been “set up” to make such bad choices, but that they were still my choices that I chose to make. I did not HAVE to sin, if that makes sense. I chose to.

        My last category where this is still an issue is with relationships in general. I am a recovering people pleaser, and over the years I have seen how being that way set me up to be in very unhealthy, unbalanced friendships. I speak mostly of women, although there were some men in there, too. I had never been in a serious relationship with a man before my spouse, but not knowing how to treat the opposite sex before marriage (or how to allow myself to be treated) did not help matters.

        Even in my prayer time today, I confessed about so much guilt I still have from trusting the wrong people, and being deceived in many ways—concerning Scripture, for example. I had no idea how much bad theology and doctrine I’d been fed (and ate up) for a good portion of my Christian life. I still hold onto fears as to who I may have unintentionally hurt, or encouraged in the wrong ways—all thinking it was Scriptural.

        My abusive childhood set me up (again) to be spiritually abused —-but (again) I had to separate what was done to me versus what I actively did on my own.

        You were spot on about the repentance, and not shrinking from the light—-when it exposes the darkness. The truth sets us free (even when it hurts like crazy) because we are no longer held captive by deception.

        Sin is well defined in the Word as being deceptive and easily entangling (Hebrews 12:1) One must understand that in order to deal with it. It is a “worthy foe” but one that we CAN defeat, because Jesus promises us victory in Him. It does not “have to” own us, we can “own it” instead and move on.

        I hope you and I both realize how blessed we are that Christ’s blood was shed for us, so that we do not have to live in that fearful, shameful darkness anymore!

        Nothing can separate us from His love, and those that are in Him are not under condemnation anymore. He is forever done dealing with His believers on the basis of His wrath, once we are born again in Him.

        Trying to grasp that I really AM a new creation in Him is freeing, but one that is taking me time to absorb. I came into my life with Him with so many issues, and I stumbled and bumbled in more ways that I can count. Am I really a new creation in Him, when I seem to keep messing up??

        Yes I am. Not because I am suddenly a “good girl” (not even close to being true!) but because now His goodness lives in me.

      • Thanks so much for sharing all this, Helovesme 🙂

        And I think it was especially brave of you to share about the cutting. I know that some other readers of ours have cut themselves too.

        Like you, I can look back on awful things I said to people and bad advice I gave them, and some awful things I did to myself. Some of that I did before I began walking as a Christian, some of it I did after I began walking as a Christian.

        Thank God for His mercy! Thank God for being the Wonderful Counselor and how He gradually sanctifies us so long as we don’t hide from the light and truth but allow it into our inmost being where it works the sanctifying process.

        I think my words have not captured this perfectly… but you will understand.

      • Helovesme

        “I think my words have not captured this perfectly… but you will understand.”

        No, you shared wonderfully. Thank you for the kind words. It’s good to know I am not alone.

        I experience little to no shame for the cutting and even my suicide attempt—although it does still haunt me at times. It is one of the worst ways to traumatize yourself.

        I do not see such things as part of who I am now, but I do not act as though they never happened.

        In fact, because I have shunned the shame that often comes with such choices—I can actually discuss and relate to others who are hurting. So many people have cut, contemplated or attempted suicide.

        If I was still bogged down in extreme shame, it would be extremely hard to share that part of myself with anyone. The humiliation would likely hold me back!

        Anonymous I’m so sorry for what you went through! I pray you are doing better now!

      • anonymous

        Indeed, sharing about the cutting was helpful because I know I have done such. I hadn’t ever understood it until enough abuse, victimization, trauma, violation, pain, etc. had been inflicted on me that as an adult I found myself self-harming. Other trauma survivors have shown to engage in cutting and other self-harm (scratching, picking, burning, and others).

        Thanks for sharing, HeLovesMe.

  3. Finding Answers

    Barb wrote But very few pastors these days expound on how God’s Law distinguishes between intentional sin and unintentional sin.

    I think, Barb, you have brought into focus where churches / ‘c’hurches have failed. This is the first time in over fifty years I have heard anything on this subject. Everything gets lumped under “sin” or “unpardonable sin”, or if there is further exegesis, they quote NT lists of adultery, sexual immorality, etc.

    These are often the same people who are legalistic, as the NT gives them a list. And they pick and choose from the OT, depending upon a hidden agenda. Does the ‘c’hurch need more money or tithes (AKA “sacrifices”)? Does the ‘c’hurch “need more God” (AKA visible Presence)? Does the ‘c’hurch need “bums in seats” (AKA “the promised land”)?

    When the OT has been “preached”, the emphasis is on sin and sacrifice, but they consider all sin consider identical. The OT cities of refuge served a purpose. In the context of the series on Chris Moles, the cities of refuge were not set aside for the abuser.

    I really like the NMB translation. The original meaning is clearer, less tainted by the inaccurate choice of words. The short chapter explanations provide a useful condensation of the chapter contents.

    I could see a pastor using the original post for a sermon or sermon series. They might find extra enlightenment from the comments generated…I have often found other commenters I read far more edifying then the sermons I have heard or read. 🙂

    For this, I am truly blessed.

  4. I just added two more links for ‘further reading and listening’ at the bottom of this post.

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