What Does Transgression Mean in the Bible?

The human conscience is a gift from a good, holy God to show us our sins and to drive us to the Lord. In the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus, there is forgiveness because Jesus paid for everyone’s sin in their place and rose again. Rather than excusing, minimizing, or deflecting our sin, let the people of God give thanks for the gift of conscience and confess our sin to the Lord, who alone forgives when we transgress against Him.

Dave Jenkins
What Does Transgression Mean in the Bible?

What is Transgression?

The following information regarding "transgression" comes from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

trans-gresh'-un:

From "transgress," to pass over or beyond; to overpass, as any rule prescribed as the limit of duty; to break or violate, as a law, civil or moral; the act of transgressing; the violation of a law or known principle of rectitude; breach of command; offense; crime; sin. In the Old Testament pesha`, occurs 80 times, rendered in all versions by "transgression." Its meaning is "rebellion". The word "rebellion" differs from this word in that it may be in the heart, though no opportunity should be granted for its manifestation: "An evil man seeketh only rebellion" (Proverbs 17:11). Here the wise man contemplates an evil heart, looking for an excuse or opportunity to rebel.

The New Testament uses parabasis, "trespass":

"The law .... was added because of transgressions" (Galatians 3:19); "Where there is no law, neither is there transgression" (Romans 4:15); "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant" (Hebrews 9:15).

In other Bible Dictionaries "transgression" is listed as synonymous with "sin." Therefore, we'll give a brief rundown of the meaning of sin as an explanation of transgression:

Sin means to miss the mark and can refer to doing something against God or another person (Exodus 10:16). Here are some other ways the Bible references sin:

Every human is a sinner by nature (Romans 3:6-7; Romans 5:12) and by choice (Psalm 51). Iniquity left unchecked leads to willful sin, which is accompanied by having no fear of God. The build-up of unrepentant sin is pictured as a cup of iniquity being filled to the brim (Genesis 15:16; Revelation 17:16). Continued iniquity leads to unnatural affections and desires, which leads to a reprobate mind, which Romans 1:28-32 vividly portrays. The sons of Eli are examples of reprobates whom the Lord judged for their iniquities (1 Samuel 3:13-14). Rather than repent, Eli’s sons continued in their sin until repentance was no longer possible. 

Sin and Trespass

The sin nature we’ve previously discussed in this article leads to trespassing. A trespasser is someone who crosses a line or climbs a fence; they should not cross or climb. Such a trespass may be intentional or unintentional. Peter, for example, trespassed when he denied Jesus (Luke 22:34; 56-62). Every single human being crosses the line in thought, word, or attitude many times a day and should be quick to forgive others who do the same (Matthew 6:15).

Sin and Transgression

Transgression means presumptuous sin. To transgress is to disobey intentionally. Samson deliberately broke his Nazarite vow by touching a dead lion (Numbers 6:1-5; Judges 14:8-9) and allowing his hair to be cut (Judges 16:17). By doing so, he committed a transgression. David was referring to this kind of sin when he wrote in Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1). When we knowingly run a stop sign, tell a lie, or blatantly disregard an authority, we are transgressing.

Sin and Iniquity

Iniquity means an intentional choice, so to commit iniquity is to continue without repentance. An example of iniquity is David’s sin with Bathsheba that led to the killing of her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11:3-4; 2 Samuel 12:9). In Psalm 51, a Psalm of repentance, David cries out, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). 

When we realize that we have sinned, we have a choice. We can either see it for the evil it is and repent or not. When we do see sin for what it is, we are to seek the forgiveness and cleansing of God (Jeremiah 33:8; 1 John 1:9). Our other response to trespass is to harden our hearts and go deeper into habitual sin. Lists of iniquity are given in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, which describes sins that can so consume people they can be identified by that lifestyle. The Psalms help readers understand the difference between sin and iniquity when they ask the Lord to forgive both (Psalm 32:5; 38:18; 51:2; 85:2). 

David’s sin of lust led to the hardening of his heart by committing adultery and then murdering Bathsheba's husband (2 Samuel 11:14-15). At this point in David’s life, iniquity had taken over his life. Only later, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, did David repent with sorrow. 

Examples of Transgression from History

In his classic biography, Confessions, Augustine of Hippo writes of a situation from his adolescence where he and some friends stole pears from a neighbor’s orchard. Augustine, in reflecting on this situation, is full of shame, recalling he didn’t need the pear and had access to better pears. Augustine threw the stolen pears away and feasted, he says, “only on the wickedness” of the act.

We may think we can get a thrill out of sin because the rules do not apply to us. In Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of his characters, Raskolnikov believes what he did with sin didn’t matter. Raskolnikov saw himself as a man like Napoleon, who would do great deeds, but his greatness puts him beyond good and evil. Instead, he is really a poor man who hatches a plan to murder and rob a pawnbroker. Upon being discovered, Raskolnikov is forced to murder the pawnbroker’s sister as well. The guilt of the whole situation gnaws at Raskolnikov throughout the novel.

Examples like Augustine and Raskolnikov provide illustrations of the truth about the Bible’s teaching of sin. When we sin, we think we are our own master and creator, but the very act of sin shows that we are owned by the Creator God, whose authority we live under. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 2:14-15, teaches that the law of God is written on every heart, and the conscience of man testifies that everyone knows the law. The Lord has revealed Himself in Scripture, and His creation, which makes us without excuse for knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-20).

Human’s don’t break the law just because. Instead, they do it because they find enjoyment in seeking pleasure outside of God, but later, when guilt and shame creep in, they have to deal with the consequences of their lawless living.

The Conscience and Forgiveness in Christ Alone

The human conscience is a gift from a good, holy God to show us our sins and to drive us to the Lord. In the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus, there is forgiveness because Jesus paid for everyone’s sin in their place and rose again. Rather than excusing, minimizing, or deflecting our sin, let the people of God give thanks for the gift of conscience and confess our sin to the Lord, who alone forgives when we transgress against Him.

Bible Verses about Transgression

Isaiah 43:25 ~ “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

1 John 5:17 ~ All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

1 John 3:4 ~ Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

Galatians 5:19-21 ~ Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

John 8:31-32 ~ So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Isaiah 5:1-7 ~ The Song of the Vineyard

1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Hebrews 4:12 ~ For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Romans 5

Peace with God Through Faith

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.


Originally published February 11, 2020.