A Biblical Understanding of Sin
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Acts 20:28-30
Just as we were warned - it came to pass.
In previous articles I’ve addressed the corruption of the church that has occured since the time of the Apostles. We’ve seen the corruptive influence of philosophies of men which have supplanted the pure truth of God - the words of His Prophets and Apostles and the very words of Christ Himself. We’ve been taught doctrines not based on the word of God, but on the opinions of men whom He never affirmed. We’ve been taught corrupt doctrines created in response to corrupt doctrines. Over the two thousand years since Christ ascended we’ve witnessed much deception as the church (that is the body of Christ; believers) has been under constant assault.
It is only intensifying - truth is under attack.
Among his many efforts, the enemy has been hard at work redefining sin, weaving a snare of equal parts hopelessness and lawlessness. We’ve been introduced to the deception that men are born sinful, that we sin because it is our nature. We’ve forgotten that we were created as image-bearers of God, formed in His image and likeness, knit together by Him in our mother’s womb. We’ve had the anti-Christ belief that our Redeemer did not come in our flesh, like us in every respect, drilled into us until many of us have been overcome and believed it. This corruption and assault on Biblical truth has extended into nearly every aspect of mainstream Christianity today.
Definition of Sin
In this article I will be addressing what Scripture says of sin, specifically the terms it uses and their Biblical meanings. First let’s see how the term is defined in English:
an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. That which is against God’s will.
“Murder is a sin in the eyes of God.”
synonyms: immoral act, wrong, wrongdoing, act of evil, wickedness, transgression, crime, offense, misdeed, misdemeanor, iniquity, vice, crime
commit a sin. The act of missing God’s mark of perfection.
“I sinned when I stole the money.”
synonyms: misbehave, go astray, trespass, transgress, commit offense
Sin in Scripture
Hebrew: The Old Testament uses 6 nouns and 3 verbs to describe sin.
(ra’) is used more than 600 times, mostly being translated as “evil”. This term is used to describe that which is against God’s nature.
(chatta'ah) is employed nearly 300 times and most often is translated as “sin” or “offense” and speaks of guilt, an offering for sin, or punishment of sin.
(rasha) is used more than 250 times and is typically translated as “wicked”, meaning that which is ungodly and morally wrong.
(avon) is found more than 200 times, is translated as “iniquity”. It speaks of the shame and guilt of the sinner.
(pesha) is used almost 100 times, mostly being translated as “transgression” and is used to address rebellion.
(âsham) can be found more than 30 times and is typically translated as “guilty”, as in those who have committed rebellion.
(taah) a verb meaning to wander, to err, to go astray appears 50 times.
(pasha) this verb is used 41 times and describes the act of breaking away, apostatizing, quarrelling – to offend, rebel and revolt.
(shagah) appearing 21 times, this verb means to stray or mislead, a mistake, a sin of ignorance.
Sin in Hebrew can be expressed through the use of different terms - yet, all of these are addressing the nature of sin – that which is against God’s will. To sin is to fail to love God and treating others as less than you would have them treat you. It is not a tangible, material, or natural state of man - it is the absence of love, the fruit of those who are selfish and carnal.
“If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus speaks in John 8:31-32
Greek: The New Testament uses 5 nouns, 5 adjectives, and 3 verbs to describe sin.
(hamartia) this noun is used 174 times in the New Testament and describes a character trait, specifically a fatal flaw, that one develops. Carrying the same meaning elsewhere, hamartia describes the unprotected heel of the Greek mythological hero Achilles.
(paraptóma) describes an unintentional error, a misstep or fault and is used 23 times.
(parabasis) a somewhat rare noun, being used only 7 times, describes deviating and transgressing, a violation.
(asebeia) describes those who show a lack of reverence or piety for God, found only in 6 instances.
(hamartéma) the rarest Greek noun describing sin, this term only appears 4 times in the New Testament. Despite its rarity, this is arguably the term most often associated with sin as it describes an evil and selfish deed.
(ponéros) found 76 times, the most common Greek adjective describes an evil or hurtful influence, the evil one, wicked men and things.
(kakos) meaning worthless, poisoned, rotten, spoiled it is used 51 times in the New Testament.
(adikos) is used 12 times and relates to the unjust, unrighteous, wicked heathen.
(anomos) appearing 10 times, the term relates to those not subject to Jewish law, by implication a Gentile, or transgressor of that law.
(enochos) also found 10 times, it speaks of being in danger or subject to either punishment or the consequences of rebellion.
(hamartanó) this Greek verb means to miss the mark, to fall short of the goal and thereby not share in the prize; figuratively to err. Found 43 times in the New Testament.
(planaó) appearing 39 times, this Greek verb speaks of that which deceives and seduces, causing men to go astray.
(parabainó) used only 4 times, the term describes going contrary to God, a violation of His command, a transgression.
In over 2,000 instances there is a consistent view of sin throughout both the Old and New Testament. Despite the words used, or even the language itself, sin is the act of deviating from God’s purpose either accidentally or intentionally; it is to err, to become corrupt and to corrupt others - deceiving and seducing them; violating the greatest command: Love God and love others.
What can we learn from the Biblical usage of these terms?
Sin is contrary to God’s will
Sin is contrary to our God given nature
Sin is not genetic, or a substance - it is that which opposes God
Sin deceives and corrupts
Sin separates us from God, as we withdraw
Sin is the absence of love, harming ourselves and others
Death, disease and suffering are all the result of sin
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is (outside) crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” God speaks in Genesis 4:7
No one is born a sinner
Adam certainly set things in motion, subjecting creation to the dominion of the devil - a wrong made right by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ.
However, the tragic truth that eludes most today is that although Adam introduced sin and by sin death into the world; that while he enabled our ability to sin, he did not make us sinners - we are not born sinful and guilty. Each of us experience our own personal fall; each of us goes astray from the state God created us in when we are deceived, corrupted and rebel. Although Adam’s sin subjected man to death and futility, it is our personal sin that condemns us before the Holy and Living God.
We are called to repent - to return to our Heavenly Father who promises to freely and abundantly pardon us, as He desires none should perish. However, if we believe sin is natural - if we believe it is a part of who we are - if we believe we are guilty of Adam’s sin... then we fail to understand repentance just as we failed to understand sin. Perhaps most tragically, we come to view salvation as merely mental assent, recognizing Jesus as God but never returning to Him and thus never experiencing relationship with Him.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8
The good news is that while Adam enabled our sin, condemning us to death - Jesus, the Word, became flesh and while we are overcome and go astray He remained true and pure, doing what we could not. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil and the hold of the grave, thereby reconciling those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong futility. Now all the righteous and reconciled will be bodily raised to eternal life.
The “Good News” is that while men were rebelling against God, Jesus came and laid down His life to rescue us. Now that we are reconciled by His death, much more shall we be saved by his life.
“let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:7