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
-- 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.