What Does Trespass Mean throughout the Bible?

Contributing Writer
What Does Trespass Mean throughout the Bible?

If you have ever heard the Lord’s Prayer in different settings, you might notice that some churches use the phrase “Forgive us our debts” where others say, “Forgive us our trespasses.” The word trespass is another word for sin. We read it throughout the Bible.

Today we will more closely look at what the word “trespass” means in its different contexts.

The Biblical Definition of Trespass

According to NET Bible, Trespass means “To pass over, to go beyond one's right in place or act; to injure another."

Bible Hub shares that to trespass is: “to pass beyond a limit or boundary, to enter unlawfully upon the land of another. To go too far; To commit any offense, any violation of a known rule of duty; sin.”

In Hebrew, asham is often used when referring to a trespass, and paraptoma in the Greek.

The word or concept of trespass is referred to 73 times in 15 books of the Bible. It is clearly an important theological concept to understand.

When we consider the words “No trespassing” in our modern culture, this means that there is a clear boundary established that we are not legally allowed to break. When someone deliberately disobeys that sign and crosses the boundary, this is trespassing. In a similar way, and biblically speaking, trespass can be thought of in this way. When we step outside of any boundary which God has created, we are trespassing against Him and others.

Places We See Trespass in the Bible

Stealing Property or Items against Someone

The first mention of trespass is found in Genesis 31:36, when Jacob tells Laban that he has not taken his household gods. Here trespass is used in the context of taking Laban’s possessions, or stealing.

Exodus 22:9 shares about taking an animal, a lost thing, or something that leads to judgment. A common trespass as mentioned in these two verses is theft against a neighbor. We read of trespassing including animals or specific possessions.

Evil Acts against Another

When we look at Scripture, we observe a common theme of transgressions being a direct act of sin against another. Genesis 50:17 discusses the plea of Joseph’s brothers to spare their lives when Jacob has passed away. This actually grieves Joseph because He had already forgiven his brothers and would never plan to harm them back. They carried fear because of their own evil act against him in the past. When his brothers threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery, this was a trespass. This was a harsh and hateful act towards Joseph. When we commit evil acts against others, this is an example of a trespass.

Leviticus 26:40 says, “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me…”

Many definitions for trespass mention being out of step with God’s will. We are called as believers to walk in His ways and walk with Him. Trespassing is deliberately stepping out of the Lord’s plan.

In the case of Numbers 5:12 it is a trespass of adultery. When we sexually sin against another, that is trespassing against them. The boundary of purity is crossed and we disobey the Lord with our bodies.

Trespass Versus Sin

In Ephesians 2:1 it says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” The words are used separately. The Greek word for transgression is paraptōmasin. This is found in Ephesians 2:1, 2:5, and Colossians 2:13. It literally translates to “in your trespasses” or “in your transgressions.” The word hamartiais is used for sin. This word is used in John 8:24, 9:34, 1 Corinthians 15:17, Ephesians 2:1, 1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 3:6, 1 Peter 2:24, and Revelation 18:4.

When we think about a trespass, it appears to be more of an intentional act of rebellion. This differs from the word sin which could encompass a thought, disobedience, or even unknowingly stepping outside of God’s will.

Action That Leads to Separation

Sin separates us from God; we see this concept throughout the Bible. Whenever we take sinful actions against another, this is described as a trespass. Think about the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The hard truth is that we sin against others and others sin against us. We take action against the will of God. We rebel. Sin creates a barrier between us and God.

Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.”

We ponder the separation of sin and the trespasses that Adam and Eve committed. This led to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of all sin.

Romans 5:15 says, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one mans trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.”

Trespass Offering

In Leviticus 5, the trespass offering is described as a female lamb or a baby goat or two turtle doves or two young pigeons. In fact, Mary the mother of Jesus is said to bring two doves with Joseph at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:22-24). (I love how God always provided a way for people no matter what their financial and physical abilities.)

Our trespasses are to be taken seriously and because of them, there is a penalty of blood and death. Before Jesus came, this was required to be covered by the trespass offering. However, we celebrate that Jesus was the final trespass offering. (We see more references of trespass offering in Leviticus 6, Leviticus 7, and Leviticus 14.) We no longer have to go through this physical sacrifice on behalf of our sins against others. Jesus completed this work on the cross perfectly on our behalf.

Colossians 2:13-15 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

As we read about trespasses, it can be easy to look at the sins of others. But may we consider ways in which we have stepped outside of God’s will. We can embrace the fact that we all fall short of God’s glory and we need His forgiveness. Our sinful hearts lead us to trespassing against others and against the Lord. We do not have to live in condemnation ever again when we are in Christ Jesus. The old has gone and the new has come. May we live out of His grace today and always. 

Photo credit: Unsplash/Dan Meyers

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.