What Does Transgression Mean in the Bible?

Transgression may be an old-fashioned word, but it's an important one, especially in the Bible. The Bible's description of transgression teaches us something crucial about our need for God.

Contributing Writer
Updated Nov 08, 2022
What Does Transgression Mean in the Bible?

Though an old-fashioned word, “transgression” provides an important lesson for us today. Since the Fall, every human except Jesus Christ has transgressed God’s law, whether inwardly or outwardly. By God’s grace, we are saved from His righteous condemnation by recognizing our sin and humbly turning from it to accept Christ’s free gift of salvation.

Where Does the Bible Use the Word Transgression?

The New Testament uses parabasis (“trespass” or “violation”) in Galatians 3:19, Romans 4:15, and Hebrews 9:15.

Galatians 3:19 says that the law was given through angels because of humanity’s transgressions until Jesus Christ, the promised Seed, had come as a Mediator between God and humanity.

Romans 4:15 states that God’s law brings wrath, or punishment, on account of transgression. Transgression cannot exist without the law, but the law itself is not sinful.

Hebrews 9:15 describes Christ’s purpose as the new covenant’s mediator: to allow the elect to receive eternal inheritance into the Kingdom of God. Because of Christ’s death, we have been redeemed from our previous transgressions under the First Covenant. 

In the Old Testament, Isaiah 53:5 uses the word pesha` (“rebellion”), which the NIV renders as “transgression.”

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

Is Transgression the Same as Sin?

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, transgression is defined as: 

“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.” 

Pesha` (“rebellion”) appears 80 times throughout the Old Testament, consistently rendered “transgression” in all English translations. In this case, “rebellion” differs from “transgression.” It may occur in the heart without any opportunity for action. In Proverbs 17:11, the wise man ponders an evil heart that always seeks a pretense for rebellion.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines sin as “any want [lack] of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” The entry cites Archibald Alexander Hodge, who explains the problem even further in his book Outlines of Theology. Hodge argues sin is more than just a violation of a legal system; it is “an offence against a personal lawgiver and moral governor who vindicates his law with penalties,” as seen in 1 John 3:4 and Romans 4:15. Hodge goes on to explain that sin can manifest inwardly (within the soul) or outwardly (in public behavior), either by doing what is wrong or by failing to do what is right (Romans 6:12-17; 7:5-24). A sinner knows their sin is detestable before God and deserves His righteous wrath. Therefore, sin brings guilt and pollutes all who transgress God’s law.

Can We Avoid Transgression On Our Own?

Since we are born sinners (Romans 3:5-6; 5:12-13), our natural desire is to rebel against God by breaking his divine commandments and precepts. We each have a sinful nature from Adam’s original sin (Romans 5:14). This sinful nature compels us to transgress God’s Law (Psalm 51). Because of our sinful nature, we cannot avoid transgression on our own (Jeremiah 17:9). Without Christ, we are slaves to sin (Romans 7:14-24).

How Did Jesus Help with Our Transgressions?

First and foremost, Christ is able to help us because there is no transgression in Him. Hebrews 4:15-16 explain why and how Christ can sympathize with us in our weaknesses:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV)

Additionally, Christ can help us because He is the resurrection of the dead, both physically and spiritually: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” (John 11:25-26, ESV)

1 Corinthians 15:20-26 tells us that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. As the Lamb of God, Christ is first of the sacrifice and head of those who had died before Him. Death came through Adam in the Garden, but life now comes through the Second Adam’s resurrection. All die physically because of Adam’s transgression, yet those who trust in Christ will be physically resurrected. This happens sequentially: Christ is first, then come those who are His. After destroying all authority and power on the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ will transfer His kingdom to God the Father at the end of time. The Father will put all Christ’s enemies under His dominion, allowing Christ to reign absolutely. Death is the last enemy that will be destroyed.

Because Christ rose from the grave, He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). The only step we must perform to receive Jesus’s free gift of salvation is to believe according to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5, NIV)

At the moment of our salvation, Christ forever sealed us with His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit produces fruit in every believer’s life; however, this only occurs when we follow His leadership and guidance.

Galatians 5:16-23 tells believers to live according to the Holy Spirit’s leading so that we will not indulge in our carnal desires. Our carnal mind longs for what is against the will of God’s Spirit; likewise, the Spirit opposes what our fleshly mind desires. Two conflicting forces prevent us from living completely sinless (or completely sinful) lives as Christ followers. Those led by the Spirit are free from fear of God’s law and condemnation by it. Instead, they obey God’s law willingly. The corrupted nature’s behavior is evident through “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” We are warned that practitioners of these and other sins (in other words, those who sin as a lifestyle) will not enter God’s kingdom. In contrast, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” God’s law does not oppose these virtues.

How Can We Step Away from Transgression?

When addressing the issue of temptation, it is always important to refer to Scripture for ways to overcome it. Here are practical ways to overcome temptation, supported by Scripture:

1. Submit yourself to God’s will so you can resist evil thoughts and actions prompted by Satan (James 4:7).

2. Understand the mercy of God during temptation. When tempted, look for God’s “way out.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

3. Flee temptation. This is a guaranteed way to overcome it. As an example, reflect on how Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife to avoid sinning (Genesis 39:11-12).

5 Prayers to Stay Away from Transgressions

1. Oh, Lord, thank you for providing me a way out of temptation. Please, help me to find it whenever I am tempted. I don’t want to sin against You. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen!

2. Dear Lord, all glory and praise go to You. Thank you so much for giving me eternal life by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Keep my heart and mind completely focused on You. Don’t let me wander in my thoughts or go astray in my actions. Amen.

3. Lord, help me to submit to You, even when it’s tough. Give me the strength to resist the devil so he will flee. Amen!

4. Lord, I pray for peace and protection throughout my day. Don’t let bitterness and strife cause me to transgress Your Law. I want to serve You always. In Your name, I pray. Amen.

5. I need You, Lord. I feel myself slipping away from Your Word. This temptation is strong, but I know that You are stronger. Help me to endure it by Your power. Amen!

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/bymandesigns

Charles Johnson is a self-published author and an audiobook narrator for Taylor University's Sacred Roots Project. Two of his devotionals have been featured on Aboite Independent/Great Day Ministry. Charles has answered over 200 questions on Quora. Check out his book Exploring West Chicago on Amazon.

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