Does God hold us responsible for sins of ignorance?

Is it right to teach that the Lord will not hold man responsible for sins of ignorance?


The answer depends on the cause of the ignorance. Leviticus 4:28 is taken up with sins of ignorance and the sacrifices to be offered in order to obtain forgiveness. Such are specified as “sins of ignorance”— “against any of the commandments of the Lord,” which every Israelite was responsible to know. See V. 17 of chap. 5 “If a soul sin and commit any of these things, which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he wist it not, yet is he guilty and shall bear his iniquity.” Ignorance in such cases does not spell innocence. See chap. 4. 28 (R.V.): “If his sin. . . be made known to him.” His attention would be called to the commandment he had broken, but he does not then become guilty, but responsible to bring a sin-offering. Ignorance of the law of the land is no excuse for disobedience. The first question then is how far is a man responsible for being ignorant? Evidently an Amalekite or Moabite would not be responsible for offending against the ceremonial law of Israel. They might eat pork, for instance, without defilement. They would not be responsible to keep the Sabbath; but in matters of moral right and wrong, “The Gentiles which have not the law . . . are a law unto themselves, which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” (Romans 2: 14, 15). Mr. F. Arnot once said that he found a good way-of showing an African that a certain course was wrong, say stealing his neighbour’s goods, was to ask him whether it would be right for his neighbour to treat him so? It will be a sorry excuse for those who live in a land where the New Testament can be had for a penny, to allege that they did not know what God’s will was for them, when it is all contained in the Book. Ignorance, if not voluntary, may lessen responsibility, but not annihilate it, if it could by any means have been avoided; so “he that knew not his Lord’s will, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”

William Hoste