Sins Committed in Ignorance- Hebrews 9:7

In the book of Hebrews, the writer goes to great lengths to relate to his readers exactly how the New Covenant in Jesus is vastly superior in every way to the Old Covenant. In chapter 9, he focuses on the subject of priesthood, and how Jesus priesthood is superior to the Old Covenant priesthood. The primary role of the priest was to offer the sacrifice required for sin, and the primary focus here is on the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus to the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. He begins, in verse 1, by stating that he is discussing here “regulations for worship”, with worship here referring to the sacrifices offered for sin. He then briefly describes (verses 2-5) the arrangement of the furnishings in the tabernacle, particularly in the Most Holy Place where the sacrifice would be offered once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). He then turns, in verse 6, to his primary topic, which is the “priesthood” and a comparison of the Old Covenant priesthood with the priesthood of Jesus. He begins with the ministry of the “priests” in the “outer room”. These were priests other then the high priest, and their “ministry” consisted of three things: 1) keeping the flames of the menorah (which signified the light of God’s guiding presence) burning 2) the burning of incense (which signified the sweet savor of the prayers of God’s people) on the golden altar 3) the replacing of the loaves of showbread (which signified the intimate union and communion of God and His people in table fellowship). He then, in verse 7, turns to his primary topic here, the ministry of the high priest, which was carried out in the “inner room”, also known as the “Holy of Holies” or the “Most Holy Place”. This ministry in the inner room was conducted only once a year (on the Day of Atonement), and was carried out only by the high priest, who placed the blood of the sacrifice upon the mercy seat which atoned for the sins of the people. The high priest first placed the blood of a bull upon the mercy seat for his own sins, then placed the blood of a goat upon the mercy seat for the sins the people had “committed in ignorance”. This, at first blush, seems a rather odd expression, and it is not clear precisely what the writer means in using it. The Greek word here translated as “committed in ignorance” is agnoema, literally “without understanding”. It is used here not as a verb (which the insertion of the word “committed” implies”) but as a noun, referring not primarily to an action but a condition. This term is used to describe the condition of the lives of the people under the Old Covenant, but just what does the writer mean by using it? The answer will come clear in the next few verses, and as we keep in mind the context of Hebrews and what the writer is trying to accomplish here. We then proceed to verse 8, in which the writer reminds us of his primary theme, that the New Covenant priesthood and sacrifice are in every way superior to the Old Covenant priesthood and sacrifice. The way into the true Holy of Holies, the true presence of God, comes only through the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus, and His coming marks the end of the Old Covenant system and its inferior priesthood and sacrifice. These sacrifices and priesthood were merely a shadow of which Christ is the reality. We then find, in verse 9, the “key” to understanding what is meant by “sins committed in ignorance”. The writer here relates the priesthood of the Old Covenant to the “present time”, bringing us to his application of it in the lives of believers at all times. He tells us these sacrifices were not able to “clear the conscience of the worshipper”. The Greek word “clear” here is the aorist active infinitive of teleos. The root of this word in the Greek has to do with purpose, something is teleos when it accomplishes its purpose, when it does what it is intended to do. The next Greek word is suneidesis, referring here to the conscience. Remember that teleos has to do with purpose, and whaat is the purpose of the conscience? To make us aware that what we have done is wrong! What the writer is telling us, then, is that the consciences of the worshippers in the Old Covenant were not functioning properly, were not fulfilling their purpose. The Old Covenant sacrifices had become merely a religious ritual, the “same old thing”, a mere external formality. Because of this, sin had become “no big deal”, their consciences had been dulled and were no longer functioning as intended. They were “sinning” without being aware of the fact that what they were doing was sin. They were “sinning in ignorance”, sinning without recognizing and understanding that what they were doing was sin. This leads to the writer’s conclusion in verse 10, the culmination of his argument that the New Covenant in Jesus is superior to the Old Covenant, for the New Covenant does not consist of external regulations but an internal transformation. The people of God in the New Covenant no longer are able to “sin in ignorance”, since the method of conviction of sin is no longer left just to the conscience, but to the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. The Holy Spirit is in each of us, and will convict us when we sin, so it is now nearly impossible for the true believer to “sin in ignorance”. We now are not now subject to external forms and religious rituals, but to a person who lives inside us, who will convict us when we sin, but will also provide the means for us to put that “sin” behind us, to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

2 Comments Conformed to the Image of Christ  //  Epistles  //  Holy Spirit  //  Sin and Temptation  //  Transformation

2 Responses so far.

  1. John Bentum says:

    Dear Sir/Madam

    Thank you for expounding on these verses of scripture.. You, however, failed to address the question of why a persons conscience is not clear when sin occurs in ignorance (Hebrews. 9:9 )

    I look forward to your reply.

    Regards, John

    • JoeChestnut says:

      Thank you for your question. I think maybe the issue here is in the translation of “telos” as “clear”. The basic concept underlying the Greek telos has to do with a purpose or goal. The purpose of the human conscience is to convict us when we have done wrong or are considering doing what is wrong. When sin is committed in ignorance (with someone not realizing or agreeing with its wrongness) the conscience is not able to fulfill its purpose and the sin will continue unchecked. Hope that helps and thanks again for your inquiry.

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