“Do you know how fast you were going?”

I suspect many of us have been asked that simple question by a police officer, along with the follow-up:

“Do you know what the speed limit is?”

At those moment, if you are like me, you are tempted to offer up a little white lie.

“Officer, I had no idea this was a 35mph zone.”

Why do we do that?

Because we think there will be a little bit of leniency thrown our way if we broke the law unintentionally.

Of course, many of us also know Ignorantia juris non excusat (latin for “ignorance of the law excuses not”) is also the law of the land.  But we figure it’s worth a shot…

I was thinking about this a lot when I was reading through the book of Leviticus.  This Old Testament book is full of God’s Law for Israel.  Some of these laws we would consider big deals (“don’t murder”), some we think are weird (“don’t wear a shirt with two different types of fabric”), and others we have never heard of (“don’t eat the fruit from a tree the first three years after it was planted”).

There are a lot of laws to keep track of.

613 to be exact.

“Officer, I had no idea this was a 35mph zone.”

That’s why I was struck by a phrase that popped up several times in Leviticus:

“If someone offends by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things, he…”
(Leviticus 5:15) CSB

What do you suppose comes next?  “He is to be set free because he didn’t know any better?”


Ignorantia juris non excusat.

“If someone offends by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things, he must bring his penalty for guilt to the LORD: an unblemished ram from the flock (based on your assessment of its value in silver shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel) as a guilt offering.”
(Leviticus 5:15) CSB

A guilt offering.  They were still guilty even though they didn’t know they broke God’s Law.  This even applied to the leaders:

“When a leader sins and unintentionally violates any of the commands of the LORD his God by doing what is prohibited, and incurs guilt, or someone informs him about the sin he has committed, he is to bring an unblemished male goat as his offering.
(Leviticus 4:22–23) CSB

And the whole nation:

“Now if the whole community of Israel errs, and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, so that they violate any of the LORD’s commands and incur guilt by doing what is prohibited, then the assembly must present a young bull as a sin offering. They are to bring it before the tent of meeting when the sin they have committed in regard to the command becomes known.
(Leviticus 4:13–14) CSB

The thing that really struck me about all of this was simple: [highlight color=”yellow” text_color=”” background_color=”#669999″ background_opacity=”1.00″]God is God and I am not.  He has determined what is sin and I am going to sin.[/highlight] Sometimes my sin will be unintentional, but it will still be sin.

I may read the Bible and realize my sin but then I will probably forget again (just like the leaders and nation of Israel).

The beauty of the Law is that God provided a way for his people to be made right with him whether their sin is intentional or not.  And it is the same now for us in Jesus.  The Apostle Paul tells us a bit of his story:

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry—even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
(1 Timothy 1:12–14) CSB

In a nutshell, Paul says:

  • I didn’t believe
  • I was ignorant of my sin
  • The grace and mercy of Jesus overflowed toward me and strengthened me

That’s why Paul is thankful.

Me, too.