Hebrews 9 compares the annual sacrifice of the high priest (v. 7) to the greater, one-time sacrifice of Jesus (vv. 11-14). In verse 7, the writer states (NKJV, emphasis mine):

But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.

Would this sacrifice have been even for sins people never knew were committed that year? In other words, were some sacrifices given under the Law of Moses to account for sins one may never know they committed (as opposed to ones they committed in ignorance but eventually discovered)? If those people would die without ever realizing some of their past acts were sinful, would they have been considered obedient in God's eyes on account of this yearly sacrifice?

And a bonus question: If the sacrifice of verse 7 is, in fact, preventative, being even for sins one may never realize, would Jesus's even-greater sacrifice do likewise, I assume?

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    You do realise that these sacrifices were symbolic, displaying what would be true of Christ;s sufferings and death ? The question seems to imply, contrary to Hebrews 10:4, that the blood of bulls and goats did take away sins. When in fact they did not.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 1:48
  • @NigelJ My question does not hinge on whether the sacrifices were actual or symbolic. Whether real or figurative, sacrifices were offered for sins, as Hebrews 9:7 states. My question is simply whether the sins for which these sacrifices were offered included sins one hadn't presently discovered.
    – The Editor
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 13:47
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    I think national sins and individual sins are not to be conflated. In Leviticus 16 the high priest lays hands on the sacrifice and confesses all the sins of the children of Israel. It's not likely that Aaron was recounting each and every individual sin of the nation and more likely that these were more general; like national idolatry, etc. Individual sins had specific, individual sacrificial prescriptions, all involving confession. It's hard to confess an unknown sin. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


The tradition described in Heb. 9:7 is found in Numbers 15:

22 “But if you err, and do not observe all these commandments which the Lord has spoken to Moses, 23 all that the Lord has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, 24 then if it was done unwittingly without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one young bull for a burnt offering, a pleasing odor to the Lord, with its cereal offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. 25 And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven; because it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. 26 And all the congregation of the people of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who sojourns among them, because the whole population was involved in the error.

The reading does not deal with the OP question directly, but the implication is that someone must have discovered the error. There is no refence to atonement for still-unknown sins. We should also be aware that the sins in question seem to be technical ones: not carrying out one's religious duties according to the letter of the law, rather than serious moral errors.

So the answer to the OP would be "no." The sacrifice referred to in Hebrews was carried out if and when an error was discovered, not to cover errors which were still unknown. This moots the bonus question in one sense. However, in another sense the answer to the bonus question must be yes -- because in Christian tradition, the sacrifice of Jesus atones for all sins a person has committed, not only the sins s/he specifically repents for, or is even consciously aware of, when s/he is baptized.

  • Thank you for your reply. Didn't the sacrifice of Hebrews 9:7 occur "once a year" (NKJV)? Wouldn't this mean it happened annually rather than "if and when an error was discovered"? If so, this may favor a preventative interpretation.
    – The Editor
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 13:50
  • "sacrifice of Jesus atones for all sins a person has committed" but this forgiveness is appropriated through repentance so the bonus answer is still 'no'. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 21:35
  • @TheEditor you are right that Heb. 9 mentions once per year. This could refer to Yom Kippur (Lev. 16) but there is no mention of unintentional sins there. Numb. 15 and Lev. 4 both refer to unintentional sins but that ceremony is not specified as annual, at least as far as I can see. Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 1:05

Hebrews 9:7 that refers to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in which the phrase 'sins committed in ignorance', may not mean the same as the OP quote 'sins one may never realize'.

However, I find Psalm 19 written by David has something similar to the question asked

12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (NIV)

I would say David's prayer is preventative.

Now we don't have the Day of Atonement once a year, for we have Jesus. We can do it every day, just pray.

  • When Christ returns all will be revealed. If the sacrifice covers sins unknown and If " when a sin became known and not doing sin offering, it will not be forgiven" (as you say). then in the day that Christ returns many previously covered sins will become unforgiven. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 21:10
  • But Yom Kippur is from Lev. 16, not Lev. 4. BTW Lev. 4 and Num 15 are almost identical... they both deal with unintentional sins but no mention of an annual ceremony. Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 1:06
  • Both of you are correct. I remove the part of confusion. Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 4:19

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