Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. -Leviticus 16:16 (ESV)

The way the ESV translates this verse, it looks like the uncleannesses of the people and their transgressions (rebellions) are subsets of the broader category that is "sin" or missing the mark and that being unclean or being rebellious are two types of ways that Israelites miss the mark and thus both are types of sins that must be atoned for to be in the presence of God. Is this a faithful way of looking at this passage?

  • @Michael16 what specific problem do you have with my interpretation? It seems we both agree that uncleanesses & transgressions are subcategories of sin. Is your position similar to the Epimanes below that I'm incorrect for depicting that those two categories as exhaustive?
    – Austin
    Jun 22, 2023 at 15:30
  • I meant if your que is particularly about the ESV based on its punctuation. Comparing other versions it seems there is nothing like the way you see it. Sin, transgression, uncleaneness are 3 of various terms for what we call sin. I posted a link too which lists various Hebrew terms for it. They are all distinct terms sometimes may overlap. But not subset of sin.
    – Michael16
    Jun 22, 2023 at 17:16
  • @Micheal16, it's a little confusing for you to say that all three are various terms for sin, but two of these are not subsets of sin. It sounds like you are saying that sin is not what sin is... which I'm sure you don't mean to establish. If the primary definition of sin in Hebrew (and Greek) is to miss the mark. Why wouldn't uncleanness be a type of missing the mark of cleanliness and rebellion be a type of missing the mark of being a faithful subordinate?
    – Austin
    Jun 23, 2023 at 7:04
  • You are right, I agree about the concept of sin, but I got confused about the various terms used guilt, transgression, sin, etc to think chatta is just one of the categories.
    – Michael16
    Jun 23, 2023 at 17:57
  • 1
    @Michael16, well, I'm happy to learn that we agree more than we disagree. Thanks for your engaging feedback.
    – Austin
    Jun 24, 2023 at 7:24

2 Answers 2


Hebrew is usually a paratactic language. Rather than subordinating thoughts and words into logical sequences like Greek (e.g. ⲙⲉⲛ..ⲇⲉ, ⲟⲩⲛ, ⲇⲓⲟ, ⲁⲣⲁ, etc.) Hebrew usually connects words and thoughts together with "ands" (waw). And the reader is left to figure out the logical flow from the context.

But, in this case we have help. In front of "rebellions" (פָּשַׁע) and "uncleannesses" (טֻמְאָה) we have a min (מִ). In the context, it can be taken as a min of cause (because of their uncleannesses and rebellions). But more likely it's a min of separation (from).

In front of the "missing the marks" (חַטָּאת) we have a lamed (לְ). This could be, as BDB suggests, an expression of generalizing force:

(d) לְכֹל . . . (לְכָל־), at the close of a description or enumeration, with a generalizing force, as regards all… = namely, in brief (Ew), chiefly in P and Chr (prob. a juristic usage): Gn 9:10b all that go out of the ark לְכֹל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ as regards (= namely, even) all beasts of the earth, 23:10b, Ex 14:28 (cf. v:9 וְ), 27:3, 27:19, 28:38, 36:1b, Lv 5:3, 5:4 (cf. 13:51) 11:42, 16:16,<BDB, s.v. “לְ,” 514.>

So Moses' line of thought is somewhat like this: There will be atonement at/for the holy place. And, starting with the uncleannesses and rebellions, leading up to whatever other "missing the marks" the people have committed.

The hermeneutical debate, I suppose, would be whether the "missing the marks" is, as you say, a "broader category" or whether the "missing the marks" is just the leftovers (as we use "etc." in English), capturing whatever kinds of sins might be missing after listing the first two.

But there is a case to be made for the hermeneutical approach found in the ESV.

Note that the CSB takes "missing the marks" as a "broader category" like the ESV does:

“He will make atonement for the most holy place in this way for all their sins because of the Israelites’ impurities and rebellious acts. He will do the same for the tent of meeting that remains among them, because it is surrounded by their impurities” (Leviticus 16:16 CSB17)

The NIV takes "missing the marks" as a left-over category (which, as you can tell, I'd prefer):

“In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.” (Leviticus 16:16 NIV11-GKE)

  • Thank you for your highly informative response. It seems that your prefered translation treats the uncleaness and rebellion of the Israelites as subcategories of the broader catagory of sin, but not exhaustively such that there may be other types of sin also atoned for beyond the uncleaness and rebellion listed in Lev 16:16. Is that how you see it?
    – Austin
    Jun 21, 2023 at 7:39
  • Yep. there's a bunch of other sin categories. "missing the marks" takes them into account.
    – Epimanes
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:46
  • How did you type the fancy Greek font here > ⲙⲉⲛ..ⲇⲉ, ⲟⲩⲛ, ⲇⲓⲟ, ⲁⲣⲁ ? name of that font and keyboard?
    – Michael16
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:16
  • @Michael16 Years ago, I made a keyboard with Ukelele ( software.sil.org/ukelele ). Combined with Google Notosans ( fonts.google.com/noto/specimen/Noto+Sans ), it's a decent solution.
    – Epimanes
    Jun 21, 2023 at 18:05
  • 1
    @Epimanes, Thanks. that really clears up how we differ and how we agree. Very much appreciated.
    – Austin
    Jun 22, 2023 at 15:31

The people of Israel are unclean “because of their transgressions, all their sins” (16:16), and through the priest’s actions “atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD” (16:30). Differentiating between a transgression/trespass, an iniquity, and a sin can be challenging at times.

While there are some very minor differences, there are also many obvious and conspicuous similarities. All of them are sinners, and they go far beyond "missing the mark," "crossing the line," or giving in to lustful, sensual desires. We are all separated from God by sin. The unsaved have no relationship at all with God and are completely cut off by sin. Christians believe that continual sin separates them from God. Their communion with God will suffer as a result of sins, iniquities, and transgressions, even though they are eternally secure in their union with Him.

The NIV 84 and ESV renderings appeal to me. In my preferred translation, the Israelites' uncleanliness and rebellion are treated as divisions and sub-groups of the larger sin category.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.