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And if any one of the people of the land shall sin through ignorance, doing any of those things that by the law of the Lord are forbidden, and offending (DRA)

וְאִם־נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת תֶּחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מֵעַם הָאָרֶץ בַּעֲשֹׂתָהּ אַחַת מִמִּצְוֹת יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא־תֵעָשֶׂינָה וְאָשֵֽׁם

The phrase "people of the land" is typically translated as "common people" (e.g. ESV). However, it was first used to describe a specific people, the Hittites (Genesis 23:7). It is also used as a generalization for "people" living in Egypt (Genesis 42:6); the Israelites living in Egypt (Exodus 5:5); all people in general (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:10, Joshua 4:24).

Is this passage in Leviticus a way for someone who is not an Israelite and recognizes or is told they have done what the LORD forbids, a means to receive forgiveness?

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The Hittites are called "the people of the land" because they lived in the land at that time (Numbers 13:29). This doesn't mean that "the people of the land" is a generic name for non-Israelites. The laws were written envisioning a time when the Israelites would be the people who dwelt in the land ("when you come to the land" is a common refrain in the introductions to many laws, e.g. Leviticus 19:23, Numbers 15:2). So "the people of the land" were the Israelites, and so this is what the phrase means in stories from when this came to be (as in 2 Kings 23:30), as opposed to the plural peoples of the lands (Ezra 9:2) who were non-Israelites.

The structure of the chapter in Leviticus is:

  • If a person sins (4:2)
    • If the sinner is the anointed priest (4:3)
    • If the entire congregation sins (4:13)
    • If the prince sins (4:22)
    • If one person of the people of the land sins (4:27)

Seeing all the cases in a list makes it clear why the Israelite is suddenly called one of the "people of the land." Having given the instructions for the sin offerings of the high priest, the entire congregation and the prince, the book now gives the case of an ordinary individual. The designation "one person" is contrasting with the sin offering of the entire congregation, and "of the people of the land" is meant to distinguish this case from that of the high priest or prince.

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    If you look at the scriptures after the captivity, the Jews who intermarried with non-Jews were called the people of the land. Many believe the reverence to people as sinners in the New Testament is the Greek translation of the Hebrew translated people of the land. – Perry Webb Mar 12 '19 at 0:22
  • Didn't the Hittites and others remain in the land? – Revelation Lad Mar 12 '19 at 0:51
  • @PerryWebb You mean peoples of the lands (Ezra 9:2)? I mentioned that verse in the answer – b a Mar 12 '19 at 1:14
  • @RevelationLad Apparently at least as far as Uriah the Hittite, but the Hittites were one of the seven nations Israel was supposed to destroy when they came to the land – b a Mar 12 '19 at 1:19
  • @PerryWebb Also, even the term "people of the land" that might be used in connection with the New Testament doesn't mean non-Israelites. The term was used for Jews who didn't keep purity laws, not for gentiles – b a Mar 12 '19 at 1:24

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