The Old Testament. While the concept of ignorance is found often in variousequivalents, the word itself rarely appears (only twice in the RSV: Psalm 73:22 ; Ezek 45:20 ). Thelatter passage, which contains the expression "sinned through ignorance, " islikely grounded in Leviticus 4-5 and Numbers 15, where a distinction is made betweenunintentional and deliberate (high-handed) sin. The context here makes it clear thatunintentional sins are not only attributable to ignorance, but also to negligence andhuman frailty. Ignorance does not so much characterize the sin as it does thecircumstances under which the sin was committed. While ignorance did not eliminate guiltit did attenuate it, for in contrast to high-handed sins a purification offering wasavailable for sins done through ignorance ( Num 15:27-31 ).
The New Testament. Here also the word appears a limited number of times(thirteen in the RSV) but its concept is a significant and pervasive one. As in the OldTestament, lack of knowledge mitigates sin. Peter, while not exonerating those whocrucified Jesus, does seem to attenuate the guilt somewhat, noting that they "actedin ignorance" ( Ac3:17 ). So Paul observes that he received mercy because in persecuting the church he"acted in ignorance" ( 1 Ti 1:13 ). Jesusextended forgiveness to his tormentors, noting they did not know what they were doing ( Luke 23:34 ).Characterized as a great high priest in Hebrews 5:2, Jesus is said to deal gently with theignorant.
Other passages, however, indicate that ignorance can be culpable without anypalliation. Intentional ignorance associated with deliberate blindness ( Rom 1:18-23 ) andwith hardness of heart ( Eph 4:18 ) is notlightly dismissed by Paul.
Ignorance requiring mercy and forgiveness is not then so much a quality of theuneducated as it is the quality of a sinner; it is not so much an intellectual issue as itis a moral one. Even as biblical wisdom is not intellectual fullness, so ignorance is notan intellectual privation, but rather a spiritual one. It is through such ignorance (anunwillingness to forgive) that a person can be outwitted by the designing Satan ( 2 Co 2:11 ).
Ignorance is used to characterize the pagan world that had not received the specialrevelation of God ( Acts 17:23 Acts 17:30 ; 1 Peter1:14 cf. ; Wisd. of So 14:22, ;"Err about the knowledge of God live in great strife due to ignorance" ).Thus education is not so much needed as is the proclamation of the gospel ( Rom 1:16-17 ).Likewise, needing the kerygma are the legalists who through ignorance believe that theycan effect their own righteousness ( Rom 10:3 ). But eventhe revealed and received word can be twisted by the ignorant ( 2 Peter 3:16 ).
Bibliography. R. Bultmann, TDNT, 1:116-19; J. Daane, ZPEB, 3:251-52;D. K. McKim, ISBE, 2:801; A. Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Ignorant, Ignorance'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".