Sin in the Bible: A definition

This OP comes about from one of CD's Users heralding that "babies commit sins." In his quest to justify such, he threw out a few texts, albeit, unsuccessful. I am taking the liberty to review what the Bible has to say and how it defines the word.

The Bible Generally Defines "Sin" As:

  • An act, 1 John 3:4 -- “sin is the transgression of the law”.
  • “Sin is lawlessness” (NASB).

In the Old Testament the most commonly used word for sin is

  • Chata’ which in its most literal sense means “to miss the mark” as in Judges 20:16, “Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men left-handed; everyone could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss (chata’).”
  • In matters of morals, “missing the mark” refers to the fact that God’s law is the standard of ethical behavior at which one must aim.
  • Thus, when Joseph said: “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin (chata’) against God” (Gen 39:9), he was in effect saying, “how can I do this great wickedness and miss the standard of God’s law.”

Missing the mark is not merely an accidental mistake, but a voluntary and culpable wrong act. C. R. Smith says: The hundreds of examples of the word’s moral use require that the wicked man:

  • Misses the right mark because he chooses to aim at a wrong one”.
  • Misses the right path because he deliberately follows a wrong one”.
  • That is, there is no question of an innocent mistake or of the merely negative idea of failure.6

There are a number of other Hebrew words which express the idea of sin as an act, e.g.,

  • Shagah “to go astray” (1 Sam 26:21).
  • Chet’ “error” (Isa 1:18).
  • Peshac “rebellion” (1 Kgs 12:19).

And in the New Testament the most frequently used words for sin:

  • Hamartano (43x)-- See also: Matt 18:15; Luke 15:18; John 5:14; Rom 2:12; 3:23; 5:12; etc.
  • Hamartia (173x) -- Matt 1:21; 3:6; 9:2,5,6; Mark 1:4,5; Luke 1:77; John 1:29; etc.
  • also have the underlying thought of missing a mark or aim.

However, a great number of texts in both the OT and the NT refer to sin as a state, or tendency of the heart.

  • Jeremiah depicts sin as a spiritual sickness which afflicts the heart. He says that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?”(17:9).
  • David in Psalm 51 expresses the thought that he was born a sinner, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Not that his mother did anything wrong in connection with his conception or birth, she was an honorable woman, but he recognizes that he was born with a sinful nature. He desires to be washed and cleansed from sin (vss.2,7) and asks God to create in him a clean heart (vs.10). The same thought is expressed in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” Israel is called “a transgressor from the womb” (Isa 48:8).

And “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness (not a sound spot NEB) in it”, says God in Isaiah 1:6.

The Hebrew verb chashab (to think) and its derivatives appear some 180 times in the Old Testament. They are used in connection with the thoughts and purposes of God, but especially in reference to the cunning and sinful devisings of man’s heart.

  • In Genesis 6:5 God looks down on the earth and sees that the wickedness of man is great, “every imagination of the thoughts (chashab) of his heart was only evil continually.” Man’s thoughts, says Isaiah, are “thoughts (chashab) of iniquity” (59:7). He, therefore, calls on the wicked to “forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts (chashab)” (55:7).
  • The New Testament is even clearer and more emphatic on these matters. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the inward disposition as evil (Matt 5:21- 22,27-28).
    • To the Pharisees he said: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt 12:34).
    • Evil actions and words stem from the evil thought of the heart: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt 15:19).

I hope this helps us to understand sin. CM

SOURCES:

-- Charles Ryder Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Sin and of the Ways of God with Sinners(London: Epworth, 1953), p.20.

-- R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1948), p.239.

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Comments

  • GaoLuGaoLu Posts: 1,367
    All the parts from the Bible are quite good.
  • Dave_LDave_L Posts: 2,210

    What you need to understand, is Adam represented his race. God considered his sin to be everyone's sin. But Jesus also represented his children, and his righteousness God considered to be his children's righteousness. Romans 5

    “for as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

  • Dave_LDave_L Posts: 2,210

    @Mitchell said:
    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

    Virgin birth?

  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    @Mitchell said:
    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

    Please clarify what point you're making:
    1. The nature of Jesus--Pre or Post (lapsarian) fall of Adam?
    2. Immaculate Conception?
    3. The sinlessness of Mary?
    4. The sinfulness of Mary?

    If it's one of these, what are you saying? CM

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @Dave_L said:

    @Mitchell said:
    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

    Virgin birth?

    The virgin was still a descent of Adam (and as you claimed would be constituted a sinner at birth) and therefore her son would also be a descent of Adam and constituted as a sinner from birth according to the theory you presented in the third post of this thread. Or at least that is what I understand so far.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @C_M_ said:

    @Mitchell said:
    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

    Please clarify what point you're making:
    1. The nature of Jesus--Pre or Post (lapsarian) fall of Adam?
    2. Immaculate Conception?
    3. The sinlessness of Mary?
    4. The sinfulness of Mary?

    If it's one of these, what are you saying? CM

    None of the above has anything to do with my point. My point was in trying to understand and appropriate the theory Dave presented in the third post of this thread. It seems to me if that theory is accepted it logically follows that Jesus would be constituted a sinner.

  • Dave_LDave_L Posts: 2,210

    @Mitchell said:

    @Dave_L said:

    @Mitchell said:
    This means that Jesus being born of a descent of Adam the woman (Mary) would also be constituted as a sinner as well. If so Jesus cannot be said to be sinless.

    Virgin birth?

    The virgin was still a descent of Adam (and as you claimed would be constituted a sinner at birth) and therefore her son would also be a descent of Adam and constituted as a sinner from birth according to the theory you presented in the third post of this thread. Or at least that is what I understand so far.

    Was Jesus in Adam? In the same way Adam's race was? No, Jesus was the second Adam.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @Dave_L said:
    Was Jesus in Adam? In the same way Adam's race was?

    I do not have any idea what is meant by being in Adam?

    But, I do know that according to Luke 3:38 Jesus' lineage can be traced back to Adam the son of God. And, I think it follows if Adams descents are considered to be sinners at birth even before they have done neither good nor bad because of Adam's sin, then why wouldn't Jesus being Adam's descent according to Luke would be included by virtue of being Adam's descent?

  • Dave_LDave_L Posts: 2,210

    @Mitchell said:

    @Dave_L said:
    Was Jesus in Adam? In the same way Adam's race was?

    I do not have any idea what is meant by being in Adam?

    But, I do know that according to Luke 3:38 Jesus' lineage can be traced back to Adam the son of God. And, I think it follows if Adams descents are considered to be sinners at birth even before they have done neither good nor bad because of Adam's sin, then why wouldn't Jesus being Adam's descent according to Luke would be included by virtue of being Adam's descent?

    If you read Romans 5, Adam represented his children when he sinned and God considered them sinful too. Jesus, the second Adam represented his children and remained righteous. God considered his children righteous too.

    “for as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @Dave_L said:
    If you read Romans 5, Adam represented his children when he sinned and God considered them sinful too.

    When understood in that light Jesus being a child of Adam according to Luke 3:38 would also be considered sinful.

  • reformedreformed Posts: 2,075

    @Mitchell said:

    @Dave_L said:
    If you read Romans 5, Adam represented his children when he sinned and God considered them sinful too.

    When understood in that light Jesus being a child of Adam according to Luke 3:38 would also be considered sinful.

    Of course Jesus was also before Adam so the sin could not have been passed to him since he already existed. That being said, sin is passed through the male line, not female. Virgin birth gives sinlessness a viable option.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401
    edited August 2018

    @reformed said:
    That being said, sin is passed through the male line, not female.

    According to what verse?

    @reformed said:
    Jesus was also before Adam so the sin could not have been passed to him since he already existed.

    Jesus(Yeshua) did not exist as a human being before Adam through Mary sure. However, the human Yeshua/Jesus was according to Luke 3:38 born of Mary a descent of Adam and unless one accepts so sort of docetism.

    Post edited by Mitchell on
  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    Mitch,
    Here's a little context to a term you used and to help all to see its fiendish face, whenever it rears its ugly head.

    When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, the NT has no problem to supports the monotheistic tradition of the OT (see, e.g., Acts 17:22-31 and 1 Cor 8:4). On the other hand, some may challenge the monotheistic status quo of the OT.

    Christian believers are considered to be continuators of the Jewish monotheistic tradition. They are known as believing in Jesus Christ. Today's Christians described Christ as having the characteristics that in the OT were decisively reserved for the deity (Luke 7:49; John 8:58; Phil 2:6; Col 2:9). One may note that the Holy Spirit received more attention and is presented in a different way from that found in the OT (John 14:16-18; Eph 4:20). In light of this early post-apostolic Christians, they had to deal with the new vision of the divine and what it means for the salvation of humanity. While all recognized the special status of Christ (and the Holy Spirit), they nevertheless struggled to explain how this harmonized with the monotheistic conception of God and his function as the only redeemer of humanity. The big challenge is to harmonize the OT monotheistic vision of the divine with the NT.

    On the one hand, some speak of Christ as an elevated human being, the Messiah, but not God. Like it or not, this view is representative of Ebionism. They can't reconcile the OT teachings on the deity with the Christian emphasis on the divinity of Christ. I would highly suggest all to read up on the Ebionite heresy (See source below).

    On the other hand, the quest to show the unity of God and to identify Christ and the Holy Spirit with God, this Christian heresy is known as Modalistic Monarchianism. It rejected the separate existence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Instead, it saw Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as different modes of the Father’s existence. This heresy is also known as Patripassianism, or suffering of the Father (See source below). Both of these extremes (Ebionistic and Modalistic heresies), already considered deviant during the early Christian centuries, are still present within modern Christianity, even here in CD. These were the early, pre-Nicaean (prior to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., in the history of Christianity) views. The remainder of the early Christians found themselves somewhere between these two extreme positions.

    One may wonder, how in the world, they explain the relationship between God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit? Would you like to know? In a new thread, upon request. CM

    SOURCE:
    -- Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 42-44; 48-50.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    Thanks but the above but I am not sure that address Docetism assuming that is the term I used that you are referring to if it is not then I apologize for the assumption.

    Docetism is the idea that Jesus was God or a manifestation of God, but was not a human or not a son of Adam. And, that seems to me to be how some can hold to the theory that all babies are born sinners or rather the theory of 'collective guilt' of the human race and at the same time hold that Jesus who was also born of a Woman and thus a descendant of Adam was not apart of that 'collective guilt'.

    Personally, I reject both Docetism, and the theory of 'collective guilt' that probably comes from an interpretation of the teachings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Calvin.

    Another definition from Wikipedia:
    Docetism
    "In Christianity, docetism (from the Greek δοκεῖν/δόκησις dokeĩn (to seem) dókēsis (apparition, phantom), is the doctrine that the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and above all the human form of Jesus, was mere semblance without any true reality. Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism

  • reformedreformed Posts: 2,075

    @Mitchell said:
    Thanks but the above but I am not sure that address Docetism assuming that is the term I used that you are referring to if it is not then I apologize for the assumption.

    Docetism is the idea that Jesus was God or a manifestation of God, but was not a human or not a son of Adam. And, that seems to me to be how some can hold to the theory that all babies are born sinners or rather the theory of 'collective guilt' of the human race and at the same time hold that Jesus who was also born of a Woman and thus a descendant of Adam was not apart of that 'collective guilt'.

    Personally, I reject both Docetism, and the theory of 'collective guilt' that probably comes from an interpretation of the teachings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Calvin.

    Another definition from Wikipedia:
    Docetism
    "In Christianity, docetism (from the Greek δοκεῖν/δόκησις dokeĩn (to seem) dókēsis (apparition, phantom), is the doctrine that the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and above all the human form of Jesus, was mere semblance without any true reality. Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism

    Docetism is different than believing the sin nature is passed down through men.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401
    > @reformed said:
    > Docetism is different than believing the sin nature is passed down through men.

    Where did anyone on this thread actually equate the two?

    In the post of mine you quoted verbatim you will notice that I used the terms ‘collective guilt’ to refer to the concept.
  • reformedreformed Posts: 2,075

    @Mitchell said:
    > @reformed said:
    > Docetism is different than believing the sin nature is passed down through men.

    Where did anyone on this thread actually equate the two?

    In the post of mine you quoted verbatim you will notice that I used the terms ‘collective guilt’ to refer to the concept.

    Perhaps I misread your earlier post, not the one I quoted, but your original quote to me.

  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    Mitch,

    Here's a contribution to one's based knowledge to aid any future conversation.

    God predicted departures from the faith on the part of some in the Apostolic Church. Men would arise “to ...... disciples after ...............” (Acts 20:30; 2 Pet. 2:1).

    "The apostles in their own day experienced the perverse teachings of former followers of Christ some of whom drew disciples after themselves. The apostle John, for example, contended with a certain Cerinthus who taught that Jesus was a normal man who received divinity (the Christ) at His baptism (in the form of a dove) and lost it before His crucifixion. Again, in 1 John 1:1-3, he argues against Docetism which contended that Jesus was divine and only appeared to be a man. John stresses the reality of Christ’s divine/human nature. He asserts that He did come in the flesh (1 John 4:2) and that this is true knowledge (1 John 5:20). John proclaimed that those who taught as Cerinthus did were, in fact, “antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22).

    Docetism denied Christ had real physical nature, asserted that He was a mere phantom, flitting across the stage of the world—a transient apparition. Gnosticism denied that a divine Person could become incarnate, or unite Himself with a human body. Docetic Gnostics maintained that a divine element descended upon Christ at His baptism and departed before the crucifixion, so Deity did not suffer on the cross.

    Cerinthus the chief promoter. Professed belief in Christ's divinity, but thought Him a phantom, or that His body was nothing more than an appearance. John, speaks of blood from his torn side; here says apostles "handled" Him, touched Him, and that His blood cleanseth from all sin. Discloses truth concerning Christ's propitiation for our sin.

    Silence concerning the church at Alexandria. The attitude was not compatible with the spirit of the early Christians, particularly with the ideas and ideals of the early church of Palestine and Asia Minor. Irenaeus wrote: “John, the--Disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus [the Gnostic from Alexandria] within, rushed out of the bathhouse without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bathhouse fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within."

    The second century was a period of great changes. This was especially true in Alexandria and Egypt, where that peculiar mixture of religious sentiments developed into what was known as Gnosticism. Alexandria during the first century and the first half of the second is concerning Gnostics or half Gnostics, such as Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, etc., who came up among the disciples and caused trouble because of their strange and obnoxious doctrines. CM

    SOURCE:
    -- Kidd, B.J. 1922. A History of the Church to AD 461, p 60.

    -- Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,' book 3, chap. 3, par. 4.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    Hello CM

    Thanks for the post above and for starting this thread.

    I think people who argue for the theory of that all born babies(humans) have collectively "inherited guilt" of Adam's sin forget that Jesus/Yeshua was also born as a human baby (a descendant of Adam) and would, therefore, would have inherited the guilt as all the descendants of Adam in the "collective guilt" theory would.

  • GaoLuGaoLu Posts: 1,367
    edited August 2018

    The matter does not seem completely crisp and clear either way. Yet God has given us enough to know what sin is and that we need to be saved from its consequences.

    Some thoughts that likely need refined:

    1. Sin Nature is not a sort of "spirit"and not a genetic component. Sin is a wilful choice to rebel or disobey God's will.

    2. We observe that every person has an inclination to sin. Babies from the womb soon display behavior we describe as angry and selfish. So we say it is their nature to sin, or their sin nature.

    3. Everyone, babies included, need saved. They need their heart, mind, will renewed. This isn't some mystical thing, but a response in the heart of one who loves God and in whom the spirit of God dwells.

    4. Babies aren't born with sin of someone else inherited. They produce their own and none is without sin.

    5. The Bible does not say what necessarily happens when a child dies. We have some examples of them being saved. Nowhere does it indicate they will go to Hell. We can try to connect logical dots and in the process come to either conclusion.

    That is enough for now. Help straighten this out.

    Post edited by GaoLu on
  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    @GaoLu said:

    I agree, more can and needs to be said. What is crystal clear (when the opposite was erroneously stated); Babies don't COMMIT sins! Babies don't willfully, knowingly choose to disobey God's will, commands, direct, or principles.

    The nature and scope of sin is a different conversation, we can have. We can even consider discussing inherit sin, but babies committing sins, absolutely, No! CM

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    Thanks for the post Gao!

    However, the evil inclination is not necessarily the same as the concept of “inherited guilt”. And neither of those two concepts are the same as Total depravity.

    Currently, I am only addressing the concept that some claim all babies inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin, not the theory that all have or do not have an evil inclination that may cause them to sin.

    And If all babies born inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin then so did baby Jesus. And, maybe this would make sense seeing that Jesus took up the sins of the world on the cross?

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @C_M_ said:
    I agree, more can and needs to be said. What is crystal clear (when the opposite was erroneously stated); Babies don't COMMIT sins! Babies don't willfully, knowingly choose to disobey God's will, commands, direct, or principles.

    I agree calling Babies sinners simply does not make sense unless someone has new definition of what it means to be a sinner.

  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    @Mitchell said:
    Thanks for the post Gao!

    However, the evil inclination is not necessarily the same as the concept of “inherited guilt”. And neither of those two concepts are the same as Total depravity.

    Currently, I am only addressing the concept that some claim all babies inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin, not the theory that all have or do not have an evil inclination that may cause them to sin.

    And If all babies born inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin then so did baby Jesus. And, maybe this would make sense seeing that Jesus took up the sins of the world on the cross?

    Bro. Mitch,

    Let's clarify some terms thrown around:

    1. What is inherit sinful traits?
    2. What is it to have a sinful nature?
    3. What is it to have sinful tendencies?
    4. Can "guilt" be inherited?
    5. How is "Guilt" defined?
    6. Is "guilt" physical or mental?
    7. Can one have a physical deformity and not have any guilt?
    8. Is guilt the outcome of a deliberate action(s) taken played out in one's mind?
    9. Is there a difference between "guilt" and consequences?
    10. For one to have an "inherited tendency" is the same as "to have sinned"?
    11. The may be a repeat: Is there such a thing as “inherited guilt”? If so, how? If not, why not?
    12. What is a sinner? Is it past actions or "state of being."
    13. Is sin biological?
    14. Is sin volitional?
    15. What is a sin?

    These and other questions need to be asked and answered for a correct and balanced understanding of this topic and for healthy Christian Living. Let's keep studying. CM

  • C_M_C_M_ Posts: 2,710

    @Mitchell said:

    @C_M_ said:
    I agree, more can and needs to be said. What is crystal clear (when the opposite was erroneously stated); Babies don't COMMIT sins! Babies don't willfully, knowingly choose to disobey God's will, commands, direct, or principles.


    I agree calling Babies sinners simply does not make sense unless someone has new definition of what it means to be a sinner.

    Even this is not correct, according to the originator of the erroneous statement. He said Babies commit sins, not that they are sinners. There is a difference! The word "commit" is the key. It speaks of consciousness, will, choice, and "present, active continuous" behavior. In this case, babies DO NOT! CM

    PS. This is why the series of questions need to be answered for greater enlightenment. CM

  • WolfgangWolfgang Posts: 1,415

    @GaoLu said:
    The matter does not seem completely crisp and clear either way. Yet God has given us enough to know what sin is and that we need to be saved from its consequences.

    Some thoughts that likely need refined:

    1. Sin Nature is not a sort of "spirit"and not a genetic component. Sin is a wilful choice to rebel or disobey God's will.

    2. We observe that every person has an inclination to sin. Babies from the womb soon display behavior we describe as angry and selfish. So we say it is their nature to sin, or their sin nature.

    3. Everyone, babies included, need saved. They need their heart, mind, will renewed. This isn't some mystical thing, but a response in the heart of one who loves God and in whom the spirit of God dwells.

    4. Babies aren't born with sin of someone else inherited. They produce their own and none is without sin.

    5. The Bible does not say what necessarily happens when a child dies. We have some examples of them being saved. Nowhere does it indicate they will go to Hell. We can try to connect logical dots and in the process come to either conclusion.

    And the same would therefore apply to the baby Jesus ... or was he not really a human being and a human baby, tempted like as we are ???

  • GaoLuGaoLu Posts: 1,367

    @Wolfgang
    Yes, at first glance, I think all those things would apply to the baby Jesus. Jesus was without sin, however, and thus did not need saved. That still fits I think but should be noted.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @C_M_ said:
    Bro. Mitch,

    Let's clarify some terms thrown around:

    I coined or am borrowing the terms 'inherited guilt' to refer to what the author of post#3 of this thread described. There it appeared that the author was speaking of the descendants of Adam being branded as because of Adam's sin even though they had nothing to do with it. Later, an individual replying to me in post#17 of this thread used the term 'sin nature' which appeared to be different from the terms I used to describe what the first poster in post#3 had mentioned. So, it seems that different people have different definitions or are speaking about different concepts.

  • MitchellMitchell Posts: 401

    @Wolfgang said:
    And the same would therefore apply to the baby Jesus ... or was he not really a human being and a human baby, tempted like as we are ???

    Exactly!
    ( Hebrews 4:15 )

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