Does anyone ever know what they are doing when they sin?


Jesus said:

Luke 23:34New International Version (NIV)

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It can be seen that Jesus not only forgave those who wanted Him dead, but forgave from His heart by using the gift of Understanding. He saw that they did not know what they were doing.

Can this be applied universally? It seems to be so. I can’t think of a case where people actually know what they are doing when they sin, when using an all-inclusive definition of the word “know”. (i.e. knowing all the information relevant to the decision to behave in a certain manner)

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While we may not know ALL of the information, most of the time we know ENOUGH of the information to make it sinful.

A child may not have the understanding of why he can’t touch a hot stove, but he still knows that his parents told him not to do it. God certainly held Adam and Eve accountable for their sin, even though they may not have understood the full ramifications of their actions.


That is a really good point, but to call a sin a sin does not depend on a person knowing anything, even knowing what we think should be “enough”. We all certainly use previous knowledge as a source of blame or condemnation, “he should have known better”, but the sin itself is sin regardless of what they know:

CCC1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."1

There is a distinction to be made between “knowing that it is a sin” and “knowing what one is doing”. If the people who hung Jesus were not sinning, then the call to forgive would have been misplaced. But no, the people were indeed sinning, they were doing a deed contrary to the eternal law, which calls for love of neighbor, mercy, forgiveness, etc. The crucifixion was definitely a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor!

True, but if he touches the stove, he will definitely know something relevant, something new. We could say the child was lacking in some knowledge, even though we may condemn and blame the child for his acts (vs forgive).

Well, holding someone to account is a different topic. A & E did not know all the relevant information, for if they did, and were not blinded by desire, they would have avoided eating the fruit. But they did do so, and they regretted their choice, so there was some gap in their grasp of the ramifications. The story of A&E may present the image of a Father who does not forgive, but Luke 23:34 presents a completely different image, more in keeping with the Sermon on the Mount and the story of the prodigal son.

Do you see what I mean, though? It is really hard to come up with an example. I can’t find one.

Thanks for your response! :slightly_smiling_face:


There is no person on earth who knows the totality of their sin, because no one has seen God face to face in his glory as in heaven. Therefore, no one “knows what they do” when they offend God.

My reaction to your initial post was that you were trying to diminish a persons culpability in their sins, but apparently that was not your point.

I agree with you, you won’t find an example.


In that case, I think those people did not realize they were crucifying the son of God. If that technique, helps you forgive, then abide by that.
I know when I select the sin, I may not always know the root of why I have that particular tendency, it does not let me off the hook though.
My human perspective, past a certain age, I think some people should know better or are fully capable of being held accountable for their sins, mistakes, etc.

If Christ held that attitude, perhaps we should emulate it.


Well, if “culpable” means “blameable”, then it is true that when we really understand a person’s ignorance, we stop blaming and forgive. Is this true for you?

Of course, this does not mean that there may be some correction warranted in the form of punishment, a means to conversion, but there is a forgiveness from the heart that is helped through understanding, as Jesus understood and forgave from the cross. Is this your experience too? Could you have been a member of the crowd, and later forgiven yourself for your own lack of knowing?


If I intentionally tell a lie, I may not know all the consequences and I don’t really know the extent to which I dishonor God; but I know that lying is a sin, that sinning insults God and that I ought not to do it.

Thus for sins in general. I do not need to have absolute knowledge before I become responsible for my sins.


Well yes, it does help! What also helps is knowing that the people were blinded by their desire for justice, a blindness that causes an automatic inability to empathize with the other.

Yes, we do self-condemn (feel guilty)! “I/he should have known better”. But once we can completely understand and forgive, then our focus can truly be one of mercy rather than judgment, right? We seek to help the person, and none of the condemnation dampens our will to be merciful. This is not to say that punishment is unmerciful, though.

So was anyone in the crowd fully capable of being held accountable, did they know better? This is a tricky area. We don’t want people to get away with crime, so we hang onto condemnation. However, accountability can happen even when forgiveness is first upheld. Accountability involves the person’s ability to give account, and if they don’t know what they are doing due to lack of awareness or triggered blindness, they are going to have a great deal of difficulty giving account or response.

Do you get what I’m saying? Thanks for your response.


This is another great point, I think. We hang onto condemnation of sin, because such hanging on guides our behaviors, at least we hope it does! But on the other hand, there comes times that we are truly blinded by desire, as the crowd was in desiring justice. The blindness itself is inadvertent, they were blind to His human dignity as well as His divinity.

So I agree that we are to be held responsible for all our sins, because nobody can “make us” do anything. On the other hand, seeing that people do not know what they are doing when they sin leads to an understanding and forgiveness that nullifies our desire to punish. The “holding responsible”, then, takes on a completely different flavor, right? All the blame and accusation is extracted.

Thanks Zaccheus!


Jesus is God the son. He doesn’t stop being God even though He became man. He still knows everything including this event, all the way to the end of time, from the foundation of the world.

So the question is, who is “they” and “them”?

Those who repent and ask for forgiveness. And according to Jesus, that’s only a "few" And those few couldn’t even be “the few” unless Jesus did what He did here.

Matthew 7:13-14 ,

Luke 13:23-28 ,

From the Catechism
1791 ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

Unless someone is mentally challenged, or in some part of the world with no access to the outside world, they (the world) has easier access to information than any time in history.


It can be difficult to understand a person can hurt someone deeply without knowing it. They may be ignorant, but they still harmed an innocent person. I’ll allow God to deal with such things.


Hi Steve,

Do you know of a Catholic scripture scholar that goes with your interpretation? I have never heard it, and the verse parallels the stoning of Steven and the sermon on the mount, as well as Mark 11:25.

Speaking from personal experience, if we wait until someone repents to forgive, we may wait an entire lifetime, which is not the holiness we are called to!

What this section of the CCC says is that everyone is responsible for their sins. If someone doesn’t know what they are doing, then we are essentially given permission to blame because “they should have known”. However, Jesus accurately stated that the crowd did not know what they were doing, he did not stay with blame because he forgave instead.

It is forgiveness, not blame that we are called to. We are invited to forgive unconditionally, as Christ did from the cross.

So regardless the blaming “should” position, it can be discerned in all cases that in actuality people do not know what they are doing when they sin.

What did the crowd not know, Steve?

Thanks for responding!


We can all relate and understand to even the worst of sinners. Yes, a person can hurt someone deeply and know it! Yet, they still do not know what they are doing. For example:

Is the person cognizant of the human dignity, the infinite value, of the person they are hurting? Or are they blinded by desire for something, resentment, desire to punish? Does the person see the value of the person they are hurting, such as the person is as important as the person they love most? If not, they do not know what they are doing.

Is the person even capable of valuing others? Does the person have an empathy pathology, such as “sociopaths”? Sociopaths do not have a clue about what they are doing, they do not know of human value.

And then of course, a person can hurt others and not even know they are hurting them. As with many molesters, for example, they are blind with denial and insist that the victim actually wants to be abused. Denial is not a willed condition, it is something normally subconscious. Even when denial is subconsciously willed, though, when brought to light no one wants to remain ignorant when they realize the harm and the gravity of the harm. The tough part is “the gravity of the harm”, though. If a person thinks humanity is of no value in the first place, showing the gravity is a long, hard process. It may take a purgatory to overcome such mentality…

For me, I can relate to those who willfully do harm to others. When I feel resentment toward someone, their value becomes of little importance. I need to take the steps to understand and forgive.


What did Jesus not know when He said

Matthew 7:13-14 ,

Luke 13:23-28 ,

Few are saved, Jesus could have denied it but He didn’t


13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,[a] that leads to destruction, and those who
enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Sorry I did not reply to these. This verse has to do with eternal life, which begins in the Now. Most of us are slaves to our emotions, passions, drives, grudges, etc., but Jesus calls us to an eternal life, a life that transcends these. This verse is not to be applied to some kind of judgment, as God always forgives us. (You can see the quote when you click my icon)

Lying behind the sayings is the rejection of Jesus and his message by his Jewish contemporaries (Lk 13:26) whose places at table in the kingdom will be taken by Gentiles from the four corners of the world (Lk 13:29). Those called last (the Gentiles) will precede those to whom the invitation to enter was first extended (the Jews). See also Lk 14:15–24.

The story is not meant to communicate that God is less than completely understanding and forgiving. As the Linns say, “If something in scripture makes it sound that God loves us less than the person who loves us most, then something is amiss.” One has to go to the underlying purpose of certain sayings. The sayings are not meant to discourage people from understanding and forgiving others, or from believing that the Father does anything less.

Now, friend, what did the crowd not know?


People would never sin if the spirit of folly did not enter them.


Universalist belief “ALL ARE SAVED” is a heresy.

Re: the crowd

The crowd then as is now and forever, according to Jesus, only a few are saved. Jesus knows from all eternity how things will be. He told us in advance. The reason few are saved is because few listen to and obey the one who judges all.


I have before. I’ve known that what I was about to do was sin (grave matter, too) and did it anyways. I knew I didn’t have to, knew it would be wrong to do it, but I still did it anyways. In fact, I even fought my own strong urges not to do it. I still did it anyways.

I cannot possibly be the only one who’s done this.


Food for thought:
love only flourishes in freedom and responsibility. So consider that a human being who is not in possession of a free will and a sense of responsibility in sin may not be sufficiently present to love either.
You could restate your question like this: "Does anyone ever know what they are doing when they love?"
I’m not sure such a person exists. There are tough questions about human ability, experience, and environment of course.


Not sure why you brought that up here. Heaven is a choice, so people may not choose it, right?

Well, my question was “what did the crowd not know?”.

I want to use your response to demonstrate what we are all compelled to answer when it comes to people doing evil, something like “I don’t care why they did it, they are bad, and that is that.” or something like similar.

I resist understanding when I do not want to understand, when I fear that understanding might possibly lead to my letting go and forgiving.

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