Some form of the word presumptuous appears eight times in the King James Version (KJV). The word indicates an intentional rebellious or sinful act by a single person (Exodus 21:14; Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12; 18:22; Psalm 19:13), multiple people (2 Peter 2:10), or the entire nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:43; 17:13).
The phrase presumptuous sins is found only once in the KJV. Most older translations use the word presumptuous, while newer translations instead use deliberate, willful, arrogant, insolent, flagrant, or similar words. Here is the passage in the Revised Standard Version, including the previous verse for context: “Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12–13).
The author of Psalm 19, King David, presents two types of sin, hidden (unintentional, accidental, secret, unseen by the sinner) and presumptuous (deliberate, intentional). We all know that our intentional sins need God’s forgiveness (Exodus 32:33; Mark 3:29). But God’s perfect law also requires our unintentional sins to be forgiven, whether committed by an ordinary person, a priest, a community leader, or a whole nation (Leviticus 4; 5:17; Numbers 15:22–29). So David humbly prays to God for protection and forgiveness from both kinds of sin, knowing his own human weakness and powerlessness against this enemy, this disease of the soul, this foreign invader in all humans (1 John 1:8).
David committed presumptuous sin when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and, when she became pregnant, had her husband killed to cover up his sin (2 Samuel 11). God chose not to protect David from these despicable presumptuous sins—we are not His puppets, and sometimes He lets us see and experience the sin living within us in all its ugliness.
Presumptuous sins are a grave offense. In Numbers 15, the law outlined the actions to be taken to atone for sins committed in ignorance. “But the person who does anything presumptuously . . . brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him” (verses 30–31, NKJV). There was no sacrifice to atone for the sin of those guilty of willful, defiant sin. As Charles Spurgeon pointed out, “All sins are great sins, but yet some sins are greater than others. . . . While all transgression is a greatly grievous sinful thing, yet there are some transgressions which have a deeper shade of blackness, and a more double scarlet-dyed hue of criminality than others” (from Sermon 135, New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 3).
Presumptuous sins are deliberate. They are committed with the full knowledge that they are sins and in full light of what God has said. Presumptuous sins are premeditated. There is intent to sin and a time of deliberation before the act. Presumptuous sins can only be committed in suppression of the conscience and in spite of its appeals. Those who sin presumptuously say, in effect, “I’m going to do this, and nothing is going to stop me. I know what God says about it, and I don’t care if it’s wrong. I’m going to do it anyway.”
Presumptuous sin is committed in direct contradiction to what a person knows is true. We can know that something is wrong—we’ve spoken out against it, and we’ve counseled others to avoid it—but, given opportunity, temptation, and a moment of weakness, we can succumb to the very sin we were sure we would never commit. We knew it was wrong, even as we were doing it, but that knowledge did not prevent us from deliberately moving forward in our sin. It’s almost inexplicable, until we remember the nature of the human heart. We are prone to sin, and that’s why David prays, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” (Psalm 19:13, ESV).
John Calvin wrote, “Unless God restrain us, our hearts will violently boil with a proud and insolent contempt of God.” May God be our defender against temptation and the one who grants us wisdom to recognize defiance within us and strength to resist it. May we be preserved from the audacity of presumptuous sins.