With the primary exception of people who are mentally impaired, virtually all the people in our society who are beyond their early childhood have a sense of what is morally right and what is morally wrong.  And many, if not most, of these people are aware that, if they do something that they know is morally wrong, they may be punished by God, even if they are not punished by society.  But, what if a person unintentionally does something immoral without realizing that what he (or she) is doing is morally wrong?

The Bible addresses unintentional sins in several scriptures, including the three that immediately follow.  [Note:  When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise.]

Leviticus 4:27: If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally by doing something against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and is guilty, or if his sin which he has committed comes to his knowledge, then he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.

Leviticus 5:15, 17-18:  If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the LORD,  then he shall bring to the LORD as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering. . . . If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him.

Numbers 15:27-28:  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.

These Old Testament scriptures indicates that to atone for unintentional sins, an animal must be sacrificed.  Without such a sacrifice, the person who committed an unintentional sin would not be forgiven for that sin.  However, after Jesus Christ subsequently died a sacrificial death on a cross, it is no longer necessary for an animal to be sacrificed to atone for sins, because Christ’s death atones for both the intentional sins and the unintentional sins of everyone who sincerely trusts in Him as their Savior.

In regard to the atonement provided by Jesus Christ, the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible says in Romans 3:25a, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”

Also, in the NIV, Hebrews 2:17 states with regard to Christ’s atoning death, “For this reason he [Jesus Christ] had to be made like them [human beings], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”


The scriptures that we have cited make it clear that without some form of atonement, even unintentional sins will not be forgiven by God.  We believe that this includes what a person says, in addition to their other actions.  [For a discussion of what the Bible states in this regard, click on “What Does the Bible Say about What We Say?]

There is also valid reason to believe that immoral thoughts, even if they are unintentional, are sins.  In this regard, Jesus Christ asserts in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  And, it is our belief that it is reasonable to infer that the same principle also applies to every other type of immoral thought of a person.

For genuine Christians (i.e., those who have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior), the sacrifice for all their sins was made by Jesus when He died on a cross to atone for the sins of every person who trusts in Him for eternal salvation.  As a result, when genuine Christians subsequently sincerely confess their sins to God in accordance with 1 John 1:9, God will forgive them for having committed those sins.   And, one way of ascertaining if a Christian’s confession of his (or her) sins is sincere is by determining if that person’s confession is accompanied by authentic repentance.  [For a discussion of the importance of both confession and repentance, click on “Are Both Confession and Repentance Necessary?]

As for people who are not genuine Christians, the Bible provides no valid reason for them to expect God to forgive them for any of their sins, regardless of whether the sins are intentional or unintentional, unless these people not only confess their sins to God, but also sincerely trust Jesus Christ’s death on a cross as the atonement for their sins.  [For a discussion of how to receive God’s forgiveness, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?]