What is Sin?

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What is Sin? Typically for those of us in the Church of God, we would say: Sin is the transgression of the law.

We would be quoting from 1 John 3:4 (King James Version) "Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

This definition is not totally correct. Let's take a look at the question: What is Sin?

What is Sin?

Webster's Dictionary defines the word "Sin" as: "A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate. A condition of estrangement from God as a result of breaking His law."

Is this the meaning that God attaches to "Sin" in the Bible?

Sin in the Old Testament

Let's look in the Bible now and see how God defines "Sin".

There are three Hebrew words that are translated "Sin" in the Old Testament.

1.) avon - In the Old Testament it is translated mostly as: iniquity.

The Hebrew meaning is: iniquity, perversity, depravity and guilt.

Strong's Concordance # 5771. 'avon, aw-vone'; or 'avown (H2 Kings 7 : 9; Psa. 51 : 5 [H7]), aw-vone'; from H5753; perversity, i.e. (moral) evil:--fault, iniquity, mischief, punishment (of iniquity), sin.

Example: 1 Kings 17:18 (KJV) "And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin (avon) to remembrance, and to slay my son?"

2.) Pesha - In the Old Testament in the King James Version it is translated mostly as: transgression. 

The Hebrew meaning is: transgression, rebellion, revolt.

Strong's Concordance # 6588. pesha', peh'-shah; from H6586; a revolt (national, moral or religious):--rebellion, sin, transgression, trespass.

Example: Prov 10:19 (KJV) "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: (pesha':H6588) but he that refraineth his lips is wise."

3.) Chattah - In the Old Testament in the King James Version it is translated mostly as: Sin

The Hebrew meaning is: Miss the mark.

Strong's Concordance # 2398. chata', khaw-taw'; a prim. root; prop. to miss; hence (fig. and gen.) to sin; by infer. to forfeit, lack, expiate, repent, (causat.) lead astray, condemn:--bear the blame, cleanse, commit [sin], by fault, harm he hath done, loss, miss, (make) offend (-er), offer for sin, purge, purify (self), make reconciliation, (cause, make) sin (-ful, -ness), trespass.

Example: Hosea 13:2 (KJV) "And now they sin (chata':H2398) more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves."

Missing the Mark

An archer aims at the bulls eye on the target with his arrow in his bow. The archer shoots and misses the mark.

In Hebrew - he sinned - because he missed the mark.

Letís notice that the Hebrew word "Avon" translated as "sin" which means iniquity, perversity, depravity is worse than Chattah - (missing the mark).

Letís also notice that the Hebrew word "Pesha" translated as "sin" which means transgression, rebellion, revolt is worse than Chattah - (missing the mark).

All iniquity and transgression is sin and misses the mark, but not all sin (missing the mark) is equal to iniquity and transgression.

This is like the phrase: All Ohioans are Americans but not all Americans are Ohioans.

To God there is a difference and He specifically inspired different Hebrew words to be used for iniquity, transgression and sin (missing the mark.)

Letís notice in the following passages that God used different Hebrew words to distinguish the differences between iniquity, transgression and sin (missing the mark.)

"I acknowledged my sin (chatta'ah:H2403) to You, And my iniquity ('avon:H5771) I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions (pesha':H6588) to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity ('avon:H5771) of my sin (chatta'ah:H2403). Selah" (Psalms 32:5).

Another example: "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity ('avon:H5771) and transgression (pesha':H6588) and sin (chatta'ah:H2403), by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity ('avon:H5771) of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:7).

Thankfully God doesn't visit every sin, every time that we "miss the mark." It would be horrible to think that for every time that we "miss the mark" that our grandchildren would be cursed. Notice that it is the "iniquity" ('avon:H5771) of the fathers that God will visit. Why would God visit the iniquity of the fathers? Because the conduct of iniquity, perversity and depravity affects subsequent generations in very adverse ways.

An example might be that parents of small children are involved in drugs, abuse, crime or pornography. These types of iniquity could affect their children and possibly their grandchildren.

First Place Chattaíah is Used

Genesis 4:7 is the first place in the Old Testament where the word (chatta'ah:H2403) is used. "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin (chatta'ah: H2403) lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Gen 4:7).

God's point is that when we don't do well, we are immediately in danger of sinning. This does not mean that we have transgressed any laws yet.

What is the mark that we are missing?   It is the mark that God has set for us to strive toward and to achieve.

Sin Through Ignorance

Is it possible to sin without a conscience problem? Yes, if you do something through ignorance. If you do something through ignorance you would not have a guilty conscience. But later, when you find out that what you did was wrong, then your conscience will bother you and then it would be sin.

Let's notice the example of Abimelech: "And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. {2} Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. {3} But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, "Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife." {4} But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? {5} "Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she, even she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this." {6} And God said to him in a dream, "Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her" (Gen 20:1-6).

God takes ignorance into account. When we are acting with integrity of heart, like Abimelech, but we lack understanding or knowledge, or we have been given incorrect information, like Abimelech, and we are going to do something that is wrong. Notice what will happen: God will send us a warning just like he did with Abimelech. God will help us to keep our integrity of heart.

Webster's Dictionary defines the word "integrity" as: "a firm adherence to a code of especially moral values."  A synonym is "honesty."

God will help to keep us honest. Sometimes you might say, I will go ahead and sin and then repent later. With that type of a rebellious attitude, God will not send a warning because you would reject it.

The Feast of Tabernacles

Here's a scripture that those of us in the Church of God are all familiar with. Zechariah 14:19  says: "This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles."

This prophecy will take place after Jesus Christ returns to the earth and sets up the millennial reign of the kingdom of God. The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the seven annual festival Sabbaths of God listed in Leviticus chapter 23.

Letís notice something special about this verse. The word "punishment" is translated from the Hebrew word "chatta'ah". Letís read this verse again: "This shall be the SIN (chatta'ah:H2403) of Egypt and the SIN (chatta'ah:H2403) of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles."

The word "punishment" should be translated "SIN" because the Hebrew is chatta'ah which means "sin" or "missing the mark."

Notice that it is a SIN not to keep the Feast of Tabernacles!

Many times when God speaks about the Gentile nations He will often use the word "Sin" but when He is speaking about Israel He uses the word "transgression."

When Israel does the same thing that a gentile nation does it is more serious for Israel.  Why? Because there is more accountability. They should know better. Ancient Israel had the law, the prophets and the psalms.

 They had God's word, the Old Testament, and they had the Old Covenant, but they rejected God and His word.

Today, the people in the world, who do not keep the Feast of Tabernacles are sinning, they are missing the mark. But, if we, who are in the Church, do not keep the Feast of Tabernacles, it is not sin, it is a transgression due to rebellion. For us, we would be rejecting the knowledge that God has given us. We would be rebelling against God.

Sin in the New Testament

There is basically only one Greek word in the New Testament for "Sin".

1.) hamartano - In the Greek it means: to miss the mark.

Example: Mat 18:21 (NIV) "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins (hamartano:G264) against me? Up to seven times?""

Strong's Concordance #264. hamartano, ham-ar-tan'-o; perh. from G1 (as a neg. particle) and the base of G3313; prop. to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), i.e. (fig.) to err, esp. (mor.) to sin.--for your faults, offend, sin, trespass.

Another example: 1 Cor 6:18 (KJV) "Flee fornication. Every sin (hamartema:G265) that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth (hamartano:G264)  against his own body."

Strong's Concordance #265. hamartema, ham-ar'-tay-mah; from G264; a sin (prop. concr.):--sin.

Notice that this Greek word comes from the same root word of hamartano #G264.

It is very interesting to realize that the Greek word "Hamartano" means the exact same thing as the Hebrew word "Chattah".

Both words mean: "Miss the Mark!"

The New Testament writers were familiar with the Hebrew of the Old Testament and knew that Chattah meant "miss the mark" and when they wrote the New Testament they chose the word that had the exact same meaning.

God inspired a secular word to convey to us what is not acceptable to Him. There are things that He will not condone or tolerate. God wants people in His Kingdom who think as He thinks.

How does the New Testament define "SIN"?

There are four definitions in the New Testament that defines "SIN." We are all familiar with 1 John 3:4 in the King James Version:  The focus of this verse in the King James Version is on our actions and conduct. The way that the King James Version translates 1 John 3:4 is that Sin is something that we do that is wrong.

Letís notice this verse: 1 John 3:4 in the King James Version: "Whosoever committeth sin (hamartia:G266) transgresseth (anomia:G458) also the law: for sin (hamartia:G266) is the transgression (anomia:G458) of the law."

Strong's Concordance #458. anomia, an-om-ee'-ah; from G459; illegality, i.e. violation of law or (gen.) wickedness:--iniquity, X transgress (-ion of) the law, unrighteousness.

The Greek word "anomia" in King James Version means "without law" or "lawlessness".

Other translations translates this verse correctly.

The New King James Version: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness."

The New American Standard Bible: "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness."

The New International Version: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."

Lawlessness does not focus on what we do but is an attitude or frame of mind, a way of thinking, rather than specific conduct.

If you tell a lie, then you are doing something and transgressing the law.

When you say "Sin" is lawlessness, you are talking about an attitude towards "law", an attitude of rejecting "law", even if you are not breaking the "law". This focuses on how our minds work.

In essence, what the Apostle John was saying in 1 John 3:4 was that sin is missing the mark which is an attitude of lawlessness. If we have an attitude or frame of mind of "contempt" for law then we are missing the mark.

Why did the Apostle John define "Sin" this way that "Sin is lawlessness?" This is the context of what he is talking about in verse 3: "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).

John was talking about how we are to purify ourselves. What is required to purify ourselves? We must put out wrong attitudes and wrong ways of thinking. Wrong conduct is the result of wrong attitudes. ""For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders" (Mark 7:21).

"Sin is lawlessness" is the correct definition but it is incomplete. There are some things that are not lawlessness but they are still sin.

Sin is greater than lawlessness

An attitude of lawlessness is a part of sin, a part of missing the mark, but there are ways that we can miss the mark which do not involve lawlessness, which do not involve that attitude.

The second New Testament definition of "sin" comes from the Apostle James: "Therefore, to him who

knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17 ).

What is sin? Sin is not doing the good that we know we should do. The more we know, the more accountable we are to God, the more God expects of us, and the more God expects us to come closer to the mark or goal that He has set for us to attain.

Why did James define Sin this way? James was paraphrasing Genesis 4:7 : "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."

Are there things that we should be doing and we are not doing, such as: controlling our tempers, bringing every thought under control, lusting, drinking to much, saying things that we shouldn't?.

If we are not doing the right things then we are "missing the mark" and are falling short.

God expects us to be accountable for what we know and understand.

We are not accountable for what we do not understand.

The third New Testament definition of "sin" comes from the Apostle Paul.

In Romans 14 the Apostle Paul is talking about meats offered to idols. Some people were offended because the meat had been offered to an idol. Then the Apostle Paul defined Sin in: Rom 14:23  "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin."

Whatever is not of faith, whatever action or conduct that is not done in faith is Sin or "missing the mark."

It is Sin if we are compromising our conscience and not responding to our conscience.

Something could be sin for me and not for you. Something could be sin for you and not for me.  

A lack of faith is sin - it always misses the mark. We are all familiar with Hebrews 11:6 : "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

We must do what is right and we must act in faith.

The fourth New Testament definition of "sin" comes from the Apostle John. "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin (missing the mark) which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that {17}All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death." (1 John 5:16-17 ).

This new definition of sin is: All unrighteousness is sin.

We are all familiar with what the definition of Righteousness is: Psalms 119:172  "For all Your commandments are righteousness."

Righteousness is keeping the commandments and unrighteousness is breaking the commandments.

The Apostle Paul said in Romans 6:16 : "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?"

We are to be slaves of obedience leading to righteousness. In other words, we are to strive to be righteous by obeying Godís ten commandments.

The Unpardonable Sin

In Romans 6:16 the Apostle Paul also mentioned the phrase: "sin leading to death."

The Unpardonable Sin (Mat 12:31) is sin that if not repented of will lead to death.

God wants all men to repent (Acts 2:38, 17:30), but if men will not repent, He will not be able to forgive and pardon them.

God is Interested in How We Think

God is interested in our attitudes and our frame of mind which produce our actions. Our actions reflect how our minds work.

Sin starts before the action comes about. The physical transgression of the wrong way of thinking is a consequence to what started in the mind. "Sinning" - "missing the mark" - is something that God will not tolerate or put up with.

God wants to have the absolute assurance that those he is going to share his existence with are going to think the same way He thinks.

God wants to be able to trust us. He needs to know that what we will be doing is right because we have chosen His way of thinking through a process of trials and tests. God cannot afford to have doubts about us as to our way of thinking because our thinking is the foundation for our future actions.

We must have God's laws written in our hearts. This is what the new covenant is about (Jer 31:31-33).

God is interested in how we think. The right way of thinking will produce more and more good conduct and actions and behavior that is in full harmony with the way that God wants us to think because that is the way God thinks.

How does God think? ""For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. {9} "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:8-9 ).

The process of life is a training ground and we must learn more and more how to think like God.

God has put His thoughts in a book - the Bible. We should have a great desire to read and study the Bible to learn more and more in how to think like God.

If our thinking is right, then our conduct should be right.

In Conclusion:

Sin is "missing the mark" and God warns us that if we continue to sin and "miss the mark" then death will be the result: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23 ).

Letís strive to "hit the mark" and achieve the goals that God has set for us. Letís think and act like God.


Note: Parts of this article is based upon notes taken from an audio taped Bible Study by Frank Nelte.