The term so translated in Hebrew is hhat·taʼthʹ and in Greek ha·mar·tiʹa. In both languages the verb forms (Heb., hha·taʼʹ; Gr., ha·mar·taʹno) mean “to miss,” in the sense of missing or not reaching a goal, way, mark or right point. At Judges 20:16 hha·taʼʹ is used (with a negative) to describe the Benjamites who were ‘slingers of stones to a hairbreadth and would not miss.’ Greek writers often used ha·mar·taʹno with regard to a spearman missing his target.
Both these words were used to mean missing or failing to reach, not merely physical objects or goals (Job 5:24), but also moral or intellectual goals or marks. Proverbs 8:35, 36 says the one finding godly wisdom finds life, but the ‘one missing [Heb., hha·taʼʹ] wisdom is doing violence to his soul,’ leading to death. In the Scriptures both the Hebrew and Greek terms refer mainly to sinning, missing the mark by God’s intelligent creatures with regard to their Creator.
“Sin” (hhat·taʼthʹ; ha·mar·tiʹa) from the Scriptural standpoint is basically anything not in harmony with, hence contrary to, God’s personality, standards, ways and will; it is anything marring one’s relationship with God. It may be in word (Job 2:10; Ps. 39:1), in deed (doing wrong acts [Lev. 20:20; 2 Cor. 12:21] or in failing to do what should be done [Num. 9:13; Jas. 4:17)), or in mind or heart attitude. (Prov. 21:4; compare also Romans 3:9-18; 2 Peter 2:12-15.) Lack of faith in God is a major sin, showing, as it does, distrust of him or lack of confidence in his ability to perform. (Heb. 3:12, 13, 18, 19) A consideration of the use of the original-language terms and examples associated therewith illustrates this.
MAN’S PLACE IN GOD’S PURPOSE
Man was created in “God’s image.” (Gen. 1:26, 27) He, like all other created things, existed and was created because of God’s will. (Rev. 4:11) God’s assigning to him work showed that man was to serve God’s purpose on earth. (Gen. 1:28; 2:8, 15) According to the inspired apostle, man was created to be both “God’s image and glory” (1 Cor. 11:7), hence to reflect the qualities of his Creator, conducting himself so as to reflect the glory of God. As God’s earthly son, man should resemble, be like his heavenly Father. To be otherwise would be to contradict and reproach the divine parenthood of God.—Compare Malachi 1:6.
Jesus showed this when encouraging his disciples to manifest goodness and love in a way surpassing that done by “sinners,” persons known to practice sinful acts. He stated that only by following God’s example in mercy and love could his disciples ‘prove themselves sons of their Father who is in the heavens.’ (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36) Paul ties in God’s glory with the matter of human sin in saying that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23; compare Romans 1:21-23; Hosea 4:7.) At 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; 4:1-6 the apostle shows that those turning from sin to Jehovah “with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah, [and] are transformed into the same image from glory to glory,” because the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, shines through to them. (Compare also 1 Corinthians 10:31.) The apostle Peter quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures in stating God’s express will for his earthly servants, saying: “In accord with the holy one who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—l Pet. 1:15, 16; Lev. 19:2; Deut. 18:13.
Sin, therefore, mars man’s reflection of God’s likeness and glory; it makes man unholy, that is, unclean, impure, tarnished in a spiritual and moral sense.—Compare Isaiah 6:5-7; Psalm 51:1, 2; Ezekiel 37:23; see HOLINESS.
All these texts, then, stress God’s original purpose that man should be in harmony with God’s personality, be like his Creator, similar to the way a human father who loves his son desires the son to be like him as to outlook on life, standards of conduct, qualities of heart. (Compare Proverbs 3:11, 12; 23:15, 16, 26; Ephesians 5:1; Hebrews 12:4-6, 9-11.) This, of necessity, requires man’s obedience and submission to the divine will, whether that will is conveyed in the form of an express commandment or not. Sin, thus, involves a moral failure, a missing of the mark, in all these aspects.
THE INTRODUCTION OF SIN
Sin was introduced first on the spirit plane before its introduction on earth. For unknown ages full harmony with God prevailed in the universe. Disruption came through a spirit creature referred to simply as the Resister, Adversary (Heb., Sa·tanʹ; Gr., Sa·ta·nasʹ; Job 1:6; Rom. 16:20), the principal False Accuser or Slanderer (Gr., Di·aʹbo·los) of God. (Heb. 2:14; Rev. 12:9) Hence, the apostle John says: “He who carries on sin originates with the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning.”—1 John 3:8.
By the “beginning” John clearly means the beginning of Satan’s career of opposition (even as “beginning” is used to refer to the start of the discipleship of Christians at 1 John 2:7; 3:11). John’s words show that, once having introduced sin, Satan continued his sinful course. Hence, any person that “makes sin his business or practice” (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. V, p. 185) reveals himself to be a ‘child’ of the Adversary, spiritual offspring reflecting the qualities of his “father.”—John 8:44; 1 John 3:10-12.
Since cultivation of wrong desire to the point of fertility precedes the ‘birth of sin’ (Jas. 1:14, 15), the spirit creature who turned opposer had already begun to deviate from righteousness, had experienced disaffection toward God, prior to the actual manifestation of sin.
Revolt in Eden
God’s will expressed to Adam and his wife was primarily positive, setting forth things they were to do. (Gen. 1:26-29; 2:15) One negative command was given to Adam, that prohibiting eating of (or touching) the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:2, 3) God’s test of man’s obedience and devotion is notable for the respect it showed for man’s dignity. By it God attributed nothing bad to Adam; he did not use as a test the prohibition of, for example, bestiality, murder, or some similar vile or base act, thereby implying that God felt Adam might have some despicable inclinations residing within him. Eating was normal, proper, and Adam had been told to “eat to satisfaction” of what God gave him. (Gen. 2:16) But God now tested Adam by restricting his eating of the fruit of this one tree, God thus causing the eating thereof to symbolize that the eater comes to a knowledge that enables him to decide for himself what is “good” or what is “bad” for man. Thus, God neither imposed a hardship on the man nor did He attribute to Adam anything beneath his dignity as a human son of God.
The woman was the first human sinner. Her temptation by God’s adversary who employed a serpent as a medium of communication (see PERFECTION [The first sinner and the king of Tyre]), was not through an open appeal to immorality of a sensual nature. Rather, it paraded as an appeal to the desire for supposed intellectual elevation and freedom. After first getting Eve to restate God’s law, which she evidently had received through her husband, the tempter then made an assault on God’s truthfulness and goodness. He asserted that eating fruit from the prescribed tree would not result in death but in enlightenment and Godlike ability to determine for oneself whether a thing was good or bad. This statement reveals that the tempter was by now thoroughly alienated in heart from his Creator, his words constituting open contradiction plus veiled slander of God. He did not accuse God of unknowing error but of deliberate misrepresentation of matters, saying, “For God knows . . . ” The gravity of sin, the detestable nature of such disaffection, is seen in the means to which this spirit son stooped to achieve his ends, becoming a deceitful liar and an ambition-driven murderer, since he obviously knew the fatal consequences of what he now suggested to his human listener.—John 8:44.
As the account reveals, improper desire began to work in the woman. Rather than react in utter disgust and righteous indignation on hearing the righteousness of God’s law thus put in question, she now came to look upon the tree as desirable. She coveted what rightly belonged to Jehovah God as her Sovereign—his ability and prerogative to determine what is good or bad for his creatures. Hence, she was now starting to conform herself to the ways, standards and will of the opposer in contradiction of her Creator, as well as of her God-appointed head, her husband. (1 Cor. 11:3) Putting trust in the tempter’s words, she let herself be seduced, ate of the fruit and thus revealed the sin that had been born in her heart and mind.—Gen. 3:6; 2 Cor. 11:3; compare James 1:14, 15; Matthew 5:27, 28.
Adam later partook of the fruit when it was offered to him by his wife. The apostle shows that the man’s sinning differed from that of his wife in that Adam was not deceived by the tempter’s propaganda, hence put no stock in the claim that eating of the tree could be done with impunity. (1 Tim. 2:14) Adam’s eating, therefore, must have been due to desire for his wife, and he ‘listened to her voice’ rather than to that of his God. (Gen. 3:6, 17) He thus conformed to her ways and will, and, through her, to those of God’s adversary. He therefore ‘missed the mark,’ failed to act in God’s image and likeness, did not reflect God’s glory, and, in fact, insulted his heavenly Father.
EFFECTS OF SIN
Sin put man out of harmony with his Creator. It thereby damaged, not only his relations with God, but also his relations with the rest of God’s creation, including damage to man’s own self, to his mind, heart and body. It brought consequences of enormous evil upon the human race.
The conduct of the human pair immediately revealed this disharmony. Their covering portions of their divinely made bodies and thereafter their attempting to hide themselves from God were clear evidences of the alienation that had taken place within their minds and hearts. (Gen. 3:7, 8) Sin thus introduced to them feelings of guilt, anxiety, insecurity, shame. This illustrates the point made by the apostle at Romans 2:15, that God’s law was ‘written on man’s heart’; hence a violation of that law now produced an internal upheaval within man, his conscience accusing him of wrongdoing. In effect, man had a built-in lie detector that made impossible his concealing his sinful state from his Creator, and God, responding to the man’s excuse for his changed attitude toward his heavenly Father, promptly inquired: “From the tree from which I commanded you not to eat have you eaten?”—Gen. 3:9-11.
To be true to himself, as well as for the good of the rest of his universal family, Jehovah God could not countenance such sinful course, either on the part of his human creatures or that of the spirit son turned rebel. Maintaining his holiness, he justly imposed the sentence of death on them all. The human pair were then expelled from God’s garden in Eden, hence cut off from access to that other tree designated by God as the “tree of life.”—Gen. 3:14-24.
Results to mankind as a whole
Romans 5:12 states that “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Compare 1 John 1:8-10.) Some have explained this as meaning that all Adam’s future offspring shared in Adam’s initial act of sin because he represented them as their family head, thereby making them, in effect, co-participants with him in his sin. The apostle, however, speaks of death as ‘spreading’ to all men, which implies a progressive rather than a simultaneous effect on Adam’s descendants.
Additionally, the apostle goes on to speak of death as ruling as king “from Adam down to Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of the transgression by Adam.” (Rom. 5:14) Adam’s sin is rightly called a “transgression” since it was an “overstepping” of a stated law, an express command of God to him. Also, Adam sinned of his own free choice as a perfect human, free from disabilities, a state his offspring have clearly never enjoyed. So, these factors seem out of harmony with the view that ‘when Adam sinned, all his as yet unborn descendants sinned with him.’ For all Adam’s descendants to be held accountable as participants in Adam’s personal sin would require some expression of will on their part as to having him as their family head. Yet none of them in reality willed to be born of him, their birth into the Adamic line resulting from the fleshly will of their parents.—John 1:13.
The evidence, then, points to a passing on of sin from Adam to succeeding generations due to the recognized law of heredity. This is evidently what the psalmist refers to in saying: “With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 51:5) Sin (and its consequences) entered and spread to all the human race not merely because Adam was the family head of the race but because he (and not Eve) was its progenitor or human life source. His offspring would inescapably inherit, not merely physical characteristics like those of their common father, and also their common sinful mother, but also personality traits, including the inclination toward sin.—Compare 1 Corinthians 15:22, 48, 49.
Paul’s words also point to this conclusion when he says that “just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one person [Christ Jesus] many will be constituted righteous.” (Rom. 5:19) The full number of those to be “constituted righteous” by Christ’s obedience were not immediately so constituted at the moment of his presenting his ransom sacrifice to God but progressively come under the benefits of that sacrifice as they come to exercise faith in that provision and become reconciled to God. (John 3:36; Acts 3:19) So, too, progressive generations of Adam’s descendants have been constituted sinners as they have been conceived by their innately sinful parents in Adam’s line.
Sin’s power and wages
“The wages sin pays is death” (Rom. 6:23) and by being born in Adam’s line all men have come under the “law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 8:2; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22) Sin, with death, has “ruled as king” over mankind, enslaving them, this slavery being one into which they were sold by Adam. (Rom. 5:17, 21; 6:6, 17; 7:14; John 8:34) These statements show that sin is viewed not only as the actual commission (or omission) of certain acts but also as a law or governing principle or force operating in them, namely, the inborn inclination toward wrongdoing that they inherit from Adam. Their Adamic inheritance has therefore produced ‘weakness of the flesh,’ imperfection. (Rom. 6:19) Sin’s “law” continually works in their fleshly members, in effect trying to control their course, make them subject to its aim, which is never the right goal of harmony with God.—Rom. 7:15, 17, 18, 20-23; Eph. 2:1-3.
“King” sin may give its ‘orders’ in different ways to different persons and at different times. Thus, God, noting the anger of Adam’s first son Cain against his brother Abel, warned Cain that if he did not turn to doing good, “there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving; and will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?” Cain, however, let the sin of envy and hatred master him, leading him to murder.—Gen. 4:3-8; compare 1 Samuel 15:23.
Sickness, pain and aging
Since death in humans is generally accompanied by disease or the aging process, it follows that these are concomitants of sin. Under the Mosaic Law covenant with Israel, the laws governing sacrifices for sin included atonement for those who had suffered from the plague of leprosy. (Lev. 14:2, 19) Those touching a human corpse or entering the tent where a person had died became unclean and required ceremonial purification. (Num. 19:11-19; compare Numbers 31:19, 20.) Jesus, too, associated illness with sin (Matt. 9:2-7; John 5:5-15), although showing that specific afflictions are not necessarily the result of any specific sinful acts. (John 9:2, 3) Other texts show the beneficial effects of righteousness (a course opposite from sinning) on one’s health (Prov. 3:7, 8; 4:20-22; 14:30) and, during Christ’s reign, the elimination of death, which rules with sin (Rom. 5:21), is accompanied by the end of pain.—1 Cor. 15:25, 26; Rev. 21:4.
SIN AND LAW
The apostle John writes that “everyone who practices sin is also practicing lawlessness, and so sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4); also that “all unrighteousness is sin.” (1 John 5:17) The apostle Paul, on the other hand, speaks of “those who sinned without law.” He further states that “until the Law [given through Moses] sin was in the world, but sin is not charged against anyone when there is no law. Nevertheless, death ruled as king from Adam down to Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of the transgression by Adam.” (Rom. 2:12; 5:13, 14) Paul’s words are to be understood in context; his earlier statements in this letter to the Romans show that he was comparing those under the Law covenant with those outside that covenant (hence not under its law code), while he demonstrated that both classes were sinful.—Rom. 3:9.
During the more than 2,500 years between Adam’s deflection and the giving of the Law covenant (in 1513 B.C.E.), God had not given mankind any comprehensive code or systematically arranged law that specifically defined sin in all its ramifications and forms. True, he had given certain decrees, as those given to Noah following the global flood (Gen. 9:1-7), and the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham and his household (including his foreign slaves). (Gen. 17:9-14) But concerning Israel the psalmist could say that God “is telling his word to Jacob, his regulations and his judicial decisions to Israel. He has not done that way to any other nation; and as for his judicial decisions, they have not known them.” (Ps. 147:19, 20; compare Exodus 19:5, 6; Deuteronomy 4:8; 7:6, 11.) Of the Law covenant given Israel it could be said, “the man that has done the righteousness of the Law will live by it,” for perfect adherence to and compliance with that Law could be accomplished only by a sinless man, as was the case with Christ Jesus. (Rom. 10:5; Matt. 5:17; John 8:46; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22) This was true of no other law given between Adam and the giving of the Law covenant.
‘Doing by nature the things of the law’
This did not mean that men during that period between Adam and Moses were free from sin, due to there being no comprehensive law code against which to measure their conduct. At Romans 2:14, 15, Paul states: “For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.” Having been originally made in God’s image and likeness, man has a moral nature, which produces the faculty of conscience. Even imperfect, sinful men retain a measure of this, as Paul’s words indicate. (See CONSCIENCE.) Since law is basically a ‘rule of conduct,’ this moral nature operates in their hearts as a law. However, set over against this law of their moral nature is another inherited law, the ‘law of sin,’ which wars against righteous tendencies, making slaves of those who do not resist its dominance.—Rom. 6:12; 7:22, 23.
This moral nature and associated conscience can be seen even in Cain’s case, for, although God had given no law regarding homicide, Cain showed that his conscience condemned him after he murdered Abel, by the evasive way he responded to God’s inquiry. (Gen. 4:8, 9) Joseph the Hebrew showed God’s ‘law in his heart’ when he responded to the seductive request of Potiphar’s wife, saying: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?” Though God had not specifically condemned adultery, yet Joseph recognized it as wrong, violating God’s will for humans as expressed in Eden.—Gen. 39:7-9; compare Genesis 2:24.
Thus, during the patriarchal period from Abraham through the twelve sons of Jacob the Scriptures show men of many races and nations speaking of “sin” (hhat·taʼthʹ), such as sins against an employer (Gen. 31:36), against the ruler to whom one is subject (Gen. 40:1; 41:9), a relative (Gen. 42:22; 43:9; 50:17) or simply a fellow human. (Gen. 20:9) In any case, the one using the term acknowledged thereby a certain relationship with the person against whom the sin was (or might be) committed and an accompany-ing responsibility to respect and not go contrary to that one’s interests (or his will and authority, as in the case of a ruler). They thereby showed evidence of moral nature. With the passing of time, nonetheless, sin’s mastery over those not serving God grew, so that Paul could speak of the people of the nations as walking in “darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God . . . past all moral sense.”—Eph. 4:17-19.
How the Law made sin “abound”
While man’s measure of conscience gave him a certain natural sense of right and wrong, God, by making the Law covenant with Israel, now specifically identified sin in its multiple aspects. The mouth of any person descended from God’s friends Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that might voice the claim of being innocent from sin was thereby “stopped and all the world [became] liable to God for punishment.” This was so because the imperfect flesh they inherited from Adam made it impossible for them to be declared righteous before God by works of law, “for by law is the accurate knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:19, 20; Gal. 3:16) The Law spelled out clearly what the full range and scope of sin was, so that, in effect, it caused trespassing and sin to “abound,” in that so many acts and even attitudes were now identified as sinful. (Rom. 5:20; 7:7, 8; Gal. 3:19; compare Psalm 40:12.) Its sacrifices continually served to remind those under the Law of their sinful state. (Heb. 10:1-4, 11) The Law by these means acted as a tutor to lead them to Christ, that they “might be declared righteous due to faith.”—Gal. 3:22-25.
Sin receives “inducement through the commandment”
As already seen, the apostle personifies sin, representing it as a “king” who wars to exercise mastery over persons and make them its slaves, as well as slaves of death, also personified as a “king.” This doubtless is the key to understanding Paul’s statements at Romans 7:5, 8-11. He refers to the “sinful passions that were excited by the Law [which] were at work in our members that we should bring forth fruit to death.” Then, using himself as an example, he speaks of sin’s “receiving an inducement through the commandment [specifically, the commandment against coveting],” and working out in Paul every sort of covetousness, thereby seducing him and killing him through that commandment.
The apostle evidently is here saying that, by the way the Law identified and exposed sinful acts, “King Sin” could now point to Paul’s covetous thoughts or acts and legally label them as the “king’s” own works or fruitage, legal evidence of the mastery of “King Sin” over Paul; thereby “King Sin” could lay legal claim to Paul (or any other person similarly under the Law) as his slave, under his “law” (Rom. 7:23), subject to his ‘pay’ (Rom. 6:23), and thereupon turn him over to the rule of “King Death,” sin’s inseparable associate. (Compare Romans 6:16.) Paul then says (according to The Jerusalem Bible translation): “The Law is sacred, and what it commands is sacred, just and good. Does that mean that something good killed me? Of course not. But sin, to show itself in its true colours, used that good thing to kill me; and thus sin, thanks to the commandment, was able to exercise all its sinful power.”—Rom. 7:12, 13; compare 1 Corinthians 15:56.
The answer to the question, “Is the Law sin?” is therefore definitely “No!” (Rom. 7:7) The Law did not ‘miss the mark’ by failing the purpose for which God gave it, but, rather, scored a ‘bull’s-eye,’ not only in being good and beneficial as a protective guide, but also in legally establishing that all persons, the Israelites not excepted, were sinners in need of redemption by God, pointing the Israelites to Christ as the needed Redeemer.
ERRORS, TRANSGRESSIONS, TRESPASSES
The Scriptures frequently link “error” (Heb., ʽa·wonʹ [“iniquity,” AV, RS]), “transgression” (Heb., peʹshaʽ; Gr., pa·raʹba·sis), “trespass” (Gr., pa·raʹpto·ma), and other such terms, with “sin” (Heb., hhat·taʼthʹ; Gr., ha·mar·tiʹa). All such related terms present specific aspects of sin, forms that it takes.
Errors, mistakes and foolishness
Thus, ʽa·wonʹ basically relates to erring, acting crookedly or wrongly. It is committing “iniquity” in the sense this English word has of ‘that which is unequal (inequity), hence unbalanced or uneven as to what is just and proper.’ The Hebrew term refers to a moral error or wrong, a distortion of what is right. (Job 10:6, 14, 15) Those not submitting to God’s will obviously are not guided by his perfect wisdom and justice, hence are bound to err. (Compare Isaiah 59:1-3; Jeremiah 14:10; Philippians 2:15.) Doubtless because sin causes man thus to be ‘off balance,’ ‘off center,’ bringing perversion of what is upright (Job 33:27; Hab. 1:4), ʽa·wonʹ is the Hebrew term most frequently linked with or used in parallel with hhat·taʼthʹ (“sin,” “missing the mark”). (Ex. 34:9; Deut. 19:15; Neh. 4:5; Ps. 32:5; 85:2; Isa. 27:9) This imbalance produces confusion and disharmony within man and difficulties in his dealings with God and with the rest of God’s creation.
The “error” (ʽa·wonʹ) may be intentional or unintentional, either a conscious deviation from what is right or an unknowing act, a “mistake” (shegha·ghahʹ), which, nevertheless, brings the person into error and guilt before God. (Lev. 4:13-35; 5:1-6, 14-19; Num. 15:22-29; Ps. 19:12, 13) If intentional, then, of course, the error was of far graver consequence than if by mistake. (Num. 15:30, 31; compare Lamentations 4:6, 13, 22.) Error is contrary to truth, and those willfully sinning pervert the truth, a course which only brings forth grosser sin. (Compare Isaiah 5:18-23.) The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the “deceptive power of sin,” which has a hardening effect on human hearts. (Heb. 3:13-15; compare Exodus 9:27, 34, 35.) The same writer, in quoting from Jeremiah 31:34 (where the Hebrew original spoke of Israel’s “error” and “sin”), wrote ha·mar·tiʹa (“sin”) and a·di·kiʹa (“unrighteousness”) at Hebrews 8:12, and ha·mar·ti’a and a·no·miʹa (“lawlessness”) at Hebrews 10:17.
Proverbs 24:9 states that “the loose conduct of foolishness is sin,” and Hebrew terms conveying the idea of foolishness are often used in connection with sinning, the sinner at times repentantly acknowledging, “I have acted foolishly.” (1 Sam. 26:21; 2 Sam. 24:10, 17) Undisciplined by God, the sinner gets tangled up in his errors and foolishly goes astray.—Prov. 5:22, 23; compare 19:3.
Transgression, an “overstepping”
Sin may take the form of a “transgression.” The Greek pa·raʹba·sis (“transgression”) refers basically to an “overstepping,” that is, going beyond certain limits or boundaries, especially as in breaking a law. Matthew uses the verb form (pa·ra·baiʹno) in recounting the question of the Pharisees and scribes as to why Jesus’ disciples ‘overstepped the tradition of men of former times,’ and Jesus’ counterquestion as to why these opposers ‘overstepped the commandment of God because of their tradition,’ by which they made God’s word invalid. (Matt. 15:1-6) It also can mean a ‘stepping aside,’ as in Judas’ ‘deviating’ from his ministry and apostleship. (Acts 1:25) In some Greek texts the same verb is used when referring to one who “goes beyond, and does not abide in the doctrine of the Anointed one.”—2 John 9, ED.
In the Hebrew Scriptures there are similar references to sinning by persons who “overstepped,” ‘sidestepped,’ ‘bypassed,’ or ‘passed beyond’ (Heb., ʽa·varʹ) God’s covenant or specific orders.—Num. 14:41; Deut. 17:2, 3; Josh. 7:11, 15; 1 Sam. 15:24; Isa. 24:5; Jer. 34:18.
The apostle Paul shows the special connection of pa·raʹba·sis with violation of established law in saying that “where there is no law, neither is there any transgression.” (Rom. 4:15) Hence, in the absence of law the sinner would not be called a “transgressor.” Consistently, Paul and the other Christian writers use pa·raʹba·sis (and pa·ra·baʹtes, “transgressor”) in the context of law. (Compare Romans 2:23-27; Galatians 2:16, 18; 3:19; James 2:9, 11.) Adam, having received a direct command from God, was therefore guilty of “transgression” of stated law. (His wife, though deceived, was also guilty of transgression of that law [1 Tim. 2:14].) The Law covenant spoken to Moses by angels was added to the Abrahamic covenant “to make transgressions manifest,” that ‘all things together might be delivered up to the custody of sin,’ legally convicting all of Adam’s descendants, Israel included, of sin, and demonstrating that all clearly needed forgiveness and salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:19-22) Thus, if Paul had put himself back under the Mosaic law, he would have made himself a “transgressor” again of that Law, subject to its condemnation, and would thereby “shove aside the undeserved kindness of God” that provided release from that condemnation.—Gal. 2:18-21; compare 3:1-4, 10.
The Hebrew peʹshaʽ carries the idea of transgression (Ps. 51:3; Isa. 43:25-27; Jer. 33:8) as well as that of “revolt,” which is a turning away from or rejection of the law or authority of another. (1 Sam. 24:11; Job 13:23, 24; 34:37; Isa. 59:12, 13) Willful transgression, then, amounts to rebellion against God’s paternal rule and authority. It sets the will of the creature against that of the Creator and so he indulges in revolt against God’s sovereignty.
The Greek pa·raʹpto·ma means, literally, “a fall beside,” hence a false step (Rom. 11:11, 12) or blunder, a “trespass.” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13) Adam’s sin in eating of the forbidden fruit was a “transgression” in that he overstepped God’s law; it was a “trespass” in that he fell or made a false step instead of standing or walking upright in harmony with God’s righteous requirements and in support of his authority. The many statutes and requirements of the Law covenant in effect opened the way for many such trespasses due to the imperfection of those subject to it (Rom. 5:20); the nation of Israel as a whole blundered as to keeping that covenant. (Rom. 11:11, 12) Since all the various statutes of that Law were part of one covenant, the person making a “false step” in one point thereby became an offender and “transgressor” against the covenant as a whole and hence against all its statutes.—Jas. 2:10, 11.
Since “there is no man that does not sin” (2 Chron. 6:36), all of Adam’s descendants can properly be termed “sinners” by nature. But in the Scriptures “sinners” usually applies in a more specific way, designating those who practice sin or who have a reputation of sinning. As such, their sins have become public knowledge. (Luke 7:37-39) The Amalekites whom Jehovah ordered Saul to destroy are called “sinners” (1 Sam. 15:18), the psalmist prayed that God would not take away his soul “along with sinners,” his following words identifying such as “blood-guilty men, in whose hands there is loose conduct, and whose right hand is full of bribery.” (Ps. 26:9, 10; compare Proverbs 1:10-19.) Jesus was condemned by religious leaders for associating with “tax collectors and sinners,” and tax collectors were viewed by the Jews as a generally disreputable class. (Matt. 9:10, 11) Jesus referred to them along with harlots as preceding the Jewish religious leaders in entry into the kingdom. (Matt. 21:31, 32) Zacchaeus, a tax collector and a “sinner” in the eyes of many, acknowledged that he had illegally extorted money from others.—Luke 19:7, 8.
Hence, when Jesus said “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance,” he was evidently using these terms in a relative sense (see RIGHTEOUSNESS [Goodness and Righteousness]), for all men are by nature sinners and none is righteous in the absolute sense.—Luke 15:7, 10; compare Luke 5:32; 13:2; see DECLARE RIGHTEOUS.
COMPARATIVE GRAVITY OF WRONGDOING
Although sin is sin, and in any case could justly make the guilty one worthy of sin’s “wages,” death, the Scriptures show that God views mankind’s wrongdoing as varying in degrees of gravity. Thus, the men of Sodom were “gross sinners against Jehovah,” and their sin was “very heavy.” (Gen. 13:13; 18:20; compare 2 Timothy 3:6, 7.) The Israelites’ making a golden calf was also called a “great sin” (Ex. 32:30, 31), and Jeroboam’s calf worship similarly caused those of the northern kingdom “to sin with a great sin.” (2 Ki. 17:16, 21) Judah’s sin became “like that of Sodom,” making the kingdom of Judah abhorrent in God’s eyes. (Isa. 1:4, 10; 3:9; Lam. 1:8; 4:6) Such a course of disregard for God’s will can make even one’s very prayer become a sin. (Ps. 109:7, 8, 14) Since sin is an affront to God’s own person, he is not indifferent to it, and as its gravity increases his indignation and wrath are understandably increased. (Rom. 1:18; Deut. 29:22-28; Job 42:7; Ps. 21:8, 9) His wrath, however, is not solely due to the involvement of his own person, but is likewise stirred by the injury and injustice done to humans and particularly his faithful servants.—Isa. 10:1-4; Mal. 2:13-16; 2 Thess. 1:6-10.
Human weakness and ignorance
Jehovah takes into account the weakness of imperfect men descended from Adam, so that those sincerely seeking Him can say, “He has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve.” The Scriptures show the wonderful mercy and loving-kindness that God has displayed in his patient dealings with men of flesh. (Ps. 103:2, 3, 10-18) He also takes into account ignorance as a contributory factor in sins (1 Tim. 1:13; compare Luke 12:47, 48), provided such ignorance is not willful. Those who willfully reject the knowledge and wisdom God offers, ‘taking pleasure in unrighteousness,’ are not excused. (2 Thess. 2:9-12; Prov. 1:22-33; Hos. 4:6-8) Some are temporarily misled from the truth but, with help, turn back (Jas. 5:19, 20), while others ‘shut their eyes to the light and forget their earlier cleansing from sins.’—2 Pet. 1:9.
Knowledge and the unforgivable sin
Thus knowledge brings greater responsibility. Pilate’s sin was not as great as that of the Jewish religious leaders who turned Jesus over to the governor, nor that of Judas, who betrayed his Lord. (John 19:11; 17:12) Jesus told Pharisees of his day that if they were blind, they would have no sin, evidently meaning that their sins could be forgiven by God on the basis of their ignorance; however, because they denied being in ignorance ‘their sin remained.’ (John 9:39-41) They and others had “no excuse for their sin,” because they were witnesses of the powerful words and works proceeding from Jesus as the result of God’s spirit on him. (John 15:22-24; Luke 4:18) Those who (either in word or by their course of action) willfully and knowingly blasphemed God’s spirit thus manifested would be “guilty of everlasting sin,” with no forgiveness possible. (Matt. 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28-30; compare John 15:26; 16:7, 8.) This could be the case with some who came to be Christians and then deliberately turned from God’s pure worship. Hebrews 10:26, 27 states that “if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”
At 1 John 5:16, 17, John evidently refers to willful, knowing sin in speaking of a “sin that does incur death” as contrasted with one that does not. (Compare Numbers 15:30.) Where the evidence indicates such willful, knowing sin, the Christian would not pray for the one so offending. God, of course, is the final Judge as to the heart attitude of the sinner, but in such cases the Christian does not risk having his prayer be in vain or be displeasing to God.—Compare Jeremiah 7:16; Matthew 5:44; Acts 7:60.
Single sin versus practice of sin
John also makes a distinction between a single sin and the practice of sinning as shown by a comparison of 1 John 2:1 and 3:4-8 as rendered in the New World Translation. As to the correctness of the rendering “everyone who practices sin [poi·onʹ ten ha·mar·tiʹan]” (1 John 3:4), Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol. VI, p. 221) says: “The present active participle (poion) means the habit of doing sin.” As to verse 6, where the phrase oukh ha·mar·taʹnei is used in the Greek text, the same authority comments (p. 222): “Linear present . . . active indicative of hamartano, ‘does not keep on sinning.’” Thus, the faithful Christian may at some time lapse or fall into sin due to weakness or being misled, but he “does not carry on sin,” continuing to walk in it.—1 John 3:9, 10; compare 1 Corinthians 15:33, 34; 1 Timothy 5:20.
Sharing in the sins of others
One can become guilty of sin before God by his willing association with wrongdoers and/or approval of their wrongdoing. (Compare Psalm 50:18, 21.) Those who stay in the symbolic city “Babylon the great” therefore also “receive part of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:2, 4-8) A Christian associating with, or even bidding “farewell” to one who abandons the teaching of the Christ becomes a “sharer in his wicked works.”—2 John 9-11; compare Titus 3:10, 11.
Timothy was warned by Paul against being “a sharer in the sins of others.” (1 Tim. 5:22) Paul’s preceding words as to ‘never laying hands hastily upon any man’ must refer to the authority granted Timothy to appoint “older men” or “overseers” in congregations. He was not to appoint a newly converted man, for such one might get puffed up with pride; if Timothy failed to heed this counsel he would reasonably bear a measure of the responsibility for whatever wrongs such one might commit.—1 Tim. 3:6.
An entire nation could become guilty of sin before God on the basis of the above principles.—Prov. 14:34.
SINS AGAINST MEN AND AGAINST GOD AND CHRIST
As shown earlier, the Hebrew Scriptures record references to sin by men of different nations during the patriarchal period. Mainly these related to sins against other humans.
Since God alone is the standard of righteousness and goodness, sins committed against humans are not failures to conform to such persons’ ‘image and likeness,’ but are a failure to respect or care for their rightful and proper interests, thus committing offense against them, causing them unjust damage. (Judg. 11:12, 13, 27; 1 Sam. 19:4, 5; 20:1; 26:21; Jer. 37:18; 2 Cor. 11:7) Jesus set forth the guiding principles to follow when observing another sinning. (Matt. 18:15-17) Even though one’s brother sinned against him seventy-seven times or seven times in a single day, such offender was to be forgiven if, upon being rebuked, he showed repentance. (Matt. 18:21, 22; Luke 17:3, 4; compare 1 Peter 4:8.) Peter speaks of house servants being slapped for sins committed against their owners. (1 Pet. 2:18-20) One can sin against constituted authority by failing to show it due respect. Paul declared himself innocent of any sin “against the Law of the Jews [or] against the temple [or] against Caesar.”—Acts 25:8.
Sins against humans, nevertheless, are also sins against the Creator, to whom men must make an accounting. (Rom. 14:10, 12; Eph. 6:5-9; Heb. 13:17) God, who held Abimelech back from having relations with Sarah, told the Philistine king, “I was also holding you back from sinning against me.” (Gen. 20:1-7) Joseph likewise recognized that adultery was a sin against the Creator of male and female and the Former of the marriage union (Gen. 39:7-9), as did King David. (2 Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51:4) Such sins as robbery, defrauding or embezzlement of another’s property are classified in the Law as ‘unfaithful behavior toward Jehovah.’ (Lev. 6:2-4; Num. 5:6-8) Those hardening their hearts and being closefisted toward their poor brothers and those withholding men’s wages were subject to divine reproval. (Deut. 15:7-10; 24:14, 15; compare Proverbs 14:31; Amos 5:12.) Samuel declared it “unthinkable, on my part, to sin against Jehovah by ceasing to pray” on behalf of his fellow Israelites and at their request.—1 Sam. 12:19-23.
Similarly, James 2:1-9 condemns as sin the showing of favoritism or the making of class distinctions among Christians. Paul says that those paying no heed to the weak consciences of their brothers and thus causing such to stumble are “sinning against Christ,” God’s Son who gave his own lifeblood for his followers.—1 Cor. 8:10-13.
Thus, while all sins in reality are sins against God, Jehovah views some sins as more directly against his own person, sins such as idolatry (Ex. 20:2-5; 2 Ki. 22:17), faithlessness (Rom. 14:22, 23; Heb. 10:37, 38; 12:1), disrespect for sacred things (Num. 18:22, 23), and all forms of false worship. (Hos. 8:11-14) This is doubtless why priest Eli told his sons, who disrespected God’s tabernacle and service, that “if a man should sin against a man, God will arbitrate for him [compare 1 Kings 8:31, 32]; but if it is against Jehovah that a man should sin, who is there to pray for him?”—1 Sam. 2:22-25; compare vss. 12-17.
Sinning against one’s own body
In warning against fornication, Paul states that “every other sin that a man may commit is outside his body, but he that practices fornication is sinning against his own body.” (1 Cor. 6:18) Fornication in the broad sense may also include adultery. (See FORNICATION.) The context shows that Paul had been emphasizing that Christians were to be united with their Lord and Head, Christ Jesus. (Vss. 13-15) The fornicator wrongly and sinfully becomes one flesh with the other person (often a harlot). (Vss. 16-18) Since no other sin can thus separate the body of the Christian from union with Christ and make it “one” with another, this is evidently why all other sins are here viewed as ‘outside one’s body.’ Fornication can also result in incurable damage to the fornicator’s own body.
SINS BY ANGELS
Since God’s spirit sons are also to reflect God’s glory and bring praise to him, carrying out his will (Ps. 148:1, 2; 103:20, 21), they can sin in the same basic sense as humans. Second Peter 2:4 shows that some of God’s spirit sons did sin, being “delivered [into] pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment.” First Peter 3:19, 20 evidently refers to the same situation in speaking of “the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days.” And Jude 6 indicates that the ‘missing of the mark’ or sinning of such spirit creatures was because they “did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place,” that proper dwelling place logically referring to the heavens of God’s presence.
Since Jesus Christ’s sacrifice contains no provision for covering the sins of spirit creatures, there is no reason to believe that the sins of those disobedient angels were forgivable. (Heb. 2:14-17) Like Adam, they were perfect creatures with no inborn weakness to be considered as an extenuating factor in judging their wrongdoing.
REMISSION OF SINS
As shown in the article DECLARE RIGHTEOUS (How “counted” righteous) Jehovah God in effect ‘credits’ righteousness to the account of those living according to faith. In so doing, God correspondingly ‘covers over,’ ‘wipes out’ or ‘blots out’ the sins that would otherwise be charged up against the account of such faithful ones. (Compare Psalm 32:1, 2; Isaiah 44:22; Acts 3:19.) Jesus, thus, likened “trespasses” and “sins” to ‘debts.’ (Compare Matthew 6:14; 18:21-35; Luke 11:4.) Though their sins were as scarlet, Jehovah ‘washes away’ the stain that makes them unholy. (Isa. 1:18; Acts 22:16) The means by which God can thus express his tender mercy and loving-kindness while yet maintaining his perfect justice and righteousness is considered under RANSOM; RECONCILIATION; REPENTANCE and related articles.
AVOIDANCE OF SIN
Love of God and love of neighbor is a principal means for avoiding sin, which is lawlessness, for love is an outstanding quality of God; he made love the foundation of his Law to Israel. (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-11) In this way the Christian can be, not alienated from God, but in joyful union with him and his Son. (1 John 1:3; 3:1-11, 24; 4:16) Such are open to the guidance of God’s holy spirit and can “live as to the spirit from the standpoint of God,” desisting from sins (1 Pet. 4:1-6) and producing the righteous fruitage of God’s spirit in place of the wicked fruitage of the sinful flesh. (Gal. 5:16-26) They can thus gain freedom from sin’s mastery.—Rom. 6:12-22.
Having faith in God’s sure reward for righteousness (Heb. 11:1, 6), one can resist the call of sin to share its temporary enjoyment. (Heb. 11:24-26) Knowing the inescapability of the rule that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap,” since “God is not one to be mocked,” the person is protected against the deceitfulness of sin. (Gal. 6:7, 8) He realizes that sins cannot remain forever hid (1 Tim. 5:24) and that “although a sinner may be doing bad a hundred times and continuing a long time as he pleases,” yet it will “turn out well with those fearing the true God,” but not with the wicked one who is not in fear of God. (Eccl. 8:11-13; compare Numbers 32:23; Proverbs 23:17, 18.) Any material riches the wicked have gained will buy them no protection from God (Zeph. 1:17, 18), and, indeed, in time the sinner’s wealth will prove to be “something treasured up for the righteous one.” (Prov. 13:21, 22; Eccl. 2:26) Those who pursue righteousness by faith can avoid carrying the “heavy load,” the loss of peace of mind and heart, the weakness of spiritual sickness, that sin brings.—Ps. 38:3-6, 18; 41:4.
Knowledge of God’s word is the basis for such faith and the means of fortifying it. (Ps. 119:11; compare 106:7.) The person who moves hastily without first seeking knowledge as to his path will ‘miss the mark,’ sinning. (Prov. 19:2) Realizing that “one sinner can destroy much good” causes the righteous person to seek to act with genuine wisdom. (Compare Ecclesiastes 9:18; 10:1-4.) It is the wise course to avoid bad associations with those practicing false worship or immorally inclined persons, for these entrap one in sin and spoil useful habits.—Ex. 23:33; Neh. 13:25, 26; Ps. 26:9-11; Prov. 1:10-19; Eccl. 7:26; 1 Cor. 15:33, 34.
There are, of course, many things that can be done or not done, or that can be done one way or another, without any condemnation of sin. (Compare 1 Corinthians 7:27, 28.) God did not hem man in with multitudinous instructions governing minute details as to how things were to be done. Clearly, man was to use his intelligence and also had ample latitude to display his individual personality and preferences. The Law covenant contained many statutes; yet even this did not rob men of their freedom of personal expression. Christianity, with its strong emphasis on love of God and neighbor as the guiding rule, similarly allows men the widest possible freedom that the righteous-hearted person could desire.—Compare Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 8:21; see FREEDOM; JEHOVAH (A God of moral standards), page 890.