Trespass is a concept mentioned numerous times in the Bible, but what does it actually mean? In a general definition, trespassing is when someone crosses into someone else’s property without permission. In the Bible, the concept of trespass is woven into the concept of ownership of both property and slaves. The concept of trespassing can be further broken down into its three main Biblical definitions: physical trespass, spiritual trespass and idolatrous trespass.
Physical trespass relates to the physical crossing of boundaries. In various Old Testament laws, religious trespasses are mentioned along with other infractions. For example, in Exodus 20:17, the Israelites were instructed not to covet their neighbors things, a trespass against the Sixth Commandment of God. The Bible also discloses the consequences of trespassing on someone’s land. In Leviticus 19:23-26, the Israelites were given several laws regarding the rights of their neighbor’s property. The Israelites were advised to keep their hands off their neighbor’s property, refrain from stealing and respect their neighbor’s boundaries. The Bible also commands the Israelites to forgive trespasses and to respect the boundaries of others.
Spiritual trespass is the movement away from God’s will and commands. In the Bible, trespassing is used in metaphor form―particularly in relation to sin. For example, recounting the story of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3:24, the Lord said to Adam and Eve, “Therefore, the Lord God sent him away from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” This is an example of God separating Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because of their trespassing by eating from the “forbidden” fruit. Notably, the Lord guides Adam and Eve from any future trespass in this passage.
Idolatrous trespass relates to the worship of false gods or idols. Idolatry is referenced consistently in the Bible, warning against its consequences. Throughout the Old Testament, God warns of the consequence of idolatry, including the destruction of entire generations because of their idolatry and the destruction of entire nations that do not put God first. For example, in Deuteronomy 5:9, God said, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”, warning against worshipping any false gods.
Consequences of Trespassing
In the Bible, the consequences for trespassing vary depending on the type of trespass. Physical trespass can result in imprisonment, fines or the loss of property. Spiritual trespass, according to the Bible, can only be undone through repentance or, in some cases, sacrifice. Idolatrous trespass has the worst consequences described in the Bible, with entire populations being wiped out or suffering great disasters because of their idolatry.
Representations of Trespassing
The Bible also speaks of trespassing in relation to Jesus’ role as a redeemer. In the Book of Luke, Jesus refers to himself as a trespass offering (Luke 22:20). Here, Jesus says “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In this passage, Jesus identifies himself as a sacrifice for the trespassing of mankind.
Implications of Trespassing
The concept of trespassing also has several implications for modern man. In a practical sense, physical trespassing can be seen in our laws and in our culture, according to the teachings of the Bible. Indeed, the Bible’s teachings have real-world implications, especially in the case of trespassing. Additionally, spiritual trespassing is a reminder that mankind is still subject to the laws of God, and that disobedience will lead to destruction. Finally, the idolatrous trespass of false gods and idols is still relevant today, with many different forms of false gods and idols going counter to the teachings of the Bible.
Obedience to God
The Bible is full of admonitions to obey God’s laws and to stay away from sin. Obedience to God’s wishes is viewed as the surest way to ensure one’s eternal salvation. In a sense, obeying God’s commands is an exercise in “trespassing prevention,” as adhering to God’s laws and remaining away from sin will avoid any type of spiritual, physical or idolatrous trespass.
The Bible also speaks of implicating others in one’s own trespasses. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus spoke of forgiving others seven times (Matt 18:21-22) as a way to avoid righteous indignation as a result of someone’s trespasses. Similarly, in the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded the Church that their actions should not lead others to stumble (1 Cor 8:13). Both of these passages can be seen as part of the larger theme of avoiding or remedying trespass through forbearance and forgiveness.
Fulfillment of the Law
The fulfillment of the law is also seen as a way to avoid trespass in the Bible. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of fulfilling the law as a way to avoid an eternal punishment for failing to properly obey God’s laws (Matt 5:17-19). This passage speaks to the importance of remembering the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with being a follower of Christ and living in accordance with his teachings.
The Bible and Trespass
Overall, the Bible speaks to the importance of understanding the concepts of trespassing and property rights in order to remain in compliance with God’s laws. Trespass and the consequences thereof are woven throughout different passages, identifying the importance of obeying God’s laws and that even small transgressions can have serious and potentially deadly consequences. Lastly, the Bible reminds us to show forgiveness to those who trespass against us, both in the form of spiritual trespasses and in the form of physical trespasses.