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In Hebrews 5:1-2, what do the phrases the “ignorant” and those who are “out of the way” mean?

In Hebrews 5:1-2, it speaks of the role of the Aaronic High Priest. He is to have compassion on the “ignorant” and on them that are “out of the way.” What do these two phrases mean?

It is likely that these two terms are in reference to the types of sins that a High Priest might regularly encounter. There were sins of “ignorance” where one violated the Law without intent, or perhaps even without knowing that they were sinning. For these sins, there was an atonement made under the Law. In Numbers 15:27-29, the priest could make atonement for the sin and it would be forgiven. In Leviticus 4, sins of ignorance are described as being done without prior deliberation and the sin is later brought to the attention of the sinner.  So, for the common man, the priest, the king and the congregation, there was a process for making atonement.

But, clearly that was not the most frequent type of sin. The sin of presumption was when the sinner did so with knowledge and pre-meditation. For such sins, there was no atonement or forgiveness under the Law. In Acts 13:38-39, Paul states that through Jesus was preached forgiveness of sins and through him is justification, “from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

The sin of those that are “out of the way” are presumptive sins. The Greek for this phrase is “planeo” or to wander, erring. See Hebrews 3:10,1 Peter 2:15.

The standard of the High Priest was not to condemn sinners, but to have compassion and recognize that he too could have so fallen. An important exhortation to us as we help each other on the journey to the Kingdom. We need to love and have compassion for those struggling with sin. Jude writes:

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”  (Jude 21-23)

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