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Categories of Sin in Psalm 19

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Question:  Could you please explain what is meant in Psalm 19:12-13 where David distinguishes between "errors and faults" on the one hand and "presumptuous sins" on the other?

P.S., I think the thing that makes your ministry different from most others is that you speak with authority in all your replies. The Lord's authority of course. No maybe's or think so's.

Response:   I very much appreciate your sentiments. It is important to say that whatever authority these writings have comes from the synergy of the Spirit and the scripture working in tandem with this "dull axe" (Eccl.10:10); and also that there is room for improvement in the matter of consistency in practicing what I preach (a very important point to make as the subject of this e-mail is personal sin).

As to your question, basics series part 3B "Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin", deals with these issues in detail. Sin is in my view yet another area where there is much to learn from scripture that is not readily available in contemporary teaching, even in most systematic theologies.

Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be upright and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
Psalm 19:12-13  KJV

To begin with, as to what David is saying here, this is well translated by the KJV; other than modernizing it, the only points I would want to make on the translation are:

1) "error": This is the Hebrew word shigiah. It often refers to sins of ignorance under the Mosaic Law. While there may be much middle ground between complete ignorance and absolute arrogance in our human experience and from our relativistic point of view, in God's perfect way of looking at things there is no gray area at all. Either we are essentially deceived in our sinning as Eve was (i.e., sins of ignorance), or we sin in full knowledge that what we are doing is wrong as Adam did (i.e., sins of arrogance). In either case, guilt results. This word refers to sins which are on the impulsive side and which are not crimes or high and heavy handed, willful violations of God's known will. That is to say, it is more than an "honest mistake" - but it is a sin (like a lie of no great consequence that you didn't have to tell but you let slip out for convenience sake or the like and immediately forgot about), and required Jesus death for atonement. In the Law there was an entire category of sacrifice devoted to the atonement of such sins, but we now have the cross as a reality. It is important to note that our Lord instructed us to pray "forgive us our debts (i.e., sins for which we are indebted) as we forgive our debtors (i.e., those who in a similar way we might have something against). When we confess our sins to the Lord in this way, we do obtain forgiveness (1Jn.1:9), and that forgiveness does cover this category of "ignorant error" – as long as we are also truly forgiving towards others. Depending upon where we are spiritually, we may or may not even take cognizance of many of sins. David is expressing a desire for greater sanctification here and so He cries out to God for help in improving his application in terms of the fine points of avoiding, recognizing, and confessing personal sin.

2) "secret faults": the italics in KJV indicate that the word "faults" is not in the Hebrew text. The word fault as we use it now in such contexts generally means an inherent character fault. What is meant here, however, is a continuation of the first half of verse 12. And it is often the case in Hebrew poetry of this sort that the poet will play the first half of a verse off against the second half. This means that they are often inter-related in meaning. David is referring to the same sort of sin here, sins of ignorance, but in verse 12b he is asking for cleansing from sin that he may not know about (i.e., he may have missed it altogether, or may not have appreciated that what he had done was sinful in each and every case - going back to "who can know?). In my estimation of scripture and observation of our human experience, there are many things that even as mature believers we do which are sinful but we let slip by our conscious ken - and confessing these potential sins whenever we confess is therefore the right policy (Matt.6:12; Lk.11:4).

3) "presumptuous": verse 13 brings up a second category of sin, namely, "insolent" sinning (a better way to translate the Hebrew zediym here). This is that category of high-handed and arrogant sin, sin we know ahead of time as sin, yet do it anyway. Moreover, it is sin of such import that there is no way we can sneak it by ourselves, our consciences - we know we are wrong when we do it and, depending again on our level of spiritual maturity, feel bad and feel apprehension when we do it. Ideally, of course, this should never happen. There was not even a sacrifice under the Mosaic Law for such sins - it is not even in the "job description" of the believer so as to ever be contemplated. That doesn't mean, of course, that believers never do this sort of thing. In David's case, his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah would fall into this category. Clearly, we all occasionally allow ourselves to fall into spiritual dis-repair and occasionally open ourselves up for moments when we are ready to disregard God and sin "right in His face". There are very few examples of even great believers in scripture who aren't on record as committing this sort of sin on occasion. The notion of it is, of course, horrendous, both because of the idea of disrespecting in such an arrogant way our God who is so to be feared, and also because of the inevitable discipline that will come the way of all who act with such temerity. For while there is punishment and discipline for all sin (cf. Heb.12:4-13), the punishment which comes from such "insolent" sinning is much more severe, much more dramatic, and much more lengthy. By the way, the standard also rises with our maturity level (which is to say, as we grow closer to God and grow in Him and our Lord Jesus, the slack we have for such things, rather than increasing, diminishes). In David's case of the two horrendous sins mentioned above, it was fourteen years before the Lord let him out of the woodshed on this, and in the process he suffered the rape of one of his daughters, the murder of one of his sons, and the conspiracy and civil war that cost him so much (leading to Absalom's death as well). From this and other examples, it is my estimate that the seven or twice seven year principle (for double sins like Bathsheba-Uriah; cf. Dan.4:32-34) is scriptural, and a very compelling reason for all mature believers to pray the end of Psalm 19 with fervor. For if "insolent sin" is not kept at bay, it will "rule over" the individual in question, because such sins inevitably create a chain of consequences which God uses to flay the person in question (so that there is no doubt about the fact of God's justice or the person's guilt). The "rule over" part, by the way, is again part of this same poetic responsion mentioned above as occurring in the two parts of verse 12.

4) The next two bits (also in verse 13 in the Hebrew [and English] verse division, but poetically composing a third couplet) speak of the results for the man for whom God (a) forgives sins, even ones which the person didn't know were sins, and (b) helps to stay away from "insolent" sinning. The first part "then shall I be upright" might be better translated something like "then I will have integrity" (with the Hebrew verb thamam referring to the Christian walking properly and decently (though not necessarily perfectly, for none of us is that), and looks back to the first couplet (i.e., having received forgiveness for all "regular" sins, whether of ignorance or cognizance). The second part of this couplet is alright in KJV except that there is no "the" (i.e., no definite article), and that has interpretive significance. For there is no one single "the" great transgression, but quite a number of ways one can "greatly transgress". This is in fact a synonym for "insolent" sinning, and so this second half of the couplet answers to the second pair above which deals with this issue. To put the whole thing into a loose English interpretation:

"How can anyone even know their actions well enough to know every sin they commit? Forgive me even my sins of ignorance. And especially keep me back for committing sins of insolence, so that they may not take control of my life (in a regime of divine discipline)! By your answering of these two prayers, Lord, I will be able to walk with integrity (1Jn.1:9), and will not be guilty of some insolent sin (with horrible consequences)".

On the precise meaning of "insolent sin", I do not think we can find in scripture a particular list (like the R.C. church's "seven deadly sins"); suffice it to say that 1) anything which is criminal; 2) anything which harms other people in any way (especially other believers); 3) anything which especially convicts the believer's conscience before the fact (or after) is more likely to fall into that category. Clearly, there are sins which are neither ignorant or insolent, but David here and the Law of Moses before him deliberately omits these from consideration (since all sin is, for the believer, an aberration).

One additional point that needs to be made here is that God is a God of great mercy and forgiveness, and that the contrite heart is always acceptable to Him. There are undoubtedly those who are "sinning unto death" by means of far less terrible things than David did, whereas David received mercy and forgiveness (2Sam.12:13). Why? Because David honestly repented of and confessed his sin, whereas there are those who go on in their sin without any true intention of "turning around", and that is the big difference.

You might also see the following links:

Bible Basics part 3B "Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin

        Peter Lesson #15:   "Confession of Sin"

Sin and Forgiveness.

Unlimited Atonement (in BB 4A: Christology)

In Him who bore all our sins and afflictions on that tree, our Lord and Savior Jesus


Bob L.

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