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Sin (3) Failure

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The words used for sin in Greek and Hebrew have a different tone to our word sin. The Greek word often translated sin (hamartia) means “missing the mark”. This expression is not nearly as negative as our word sin, especially when weighed down with the religious baggage that has been loaded on it. Someone who has missed the target has failed, but they were actually trying to hit it. They have not been going in the opposite direction. The word signifies failure more than deliberate rebellion. Greek has the word “anupotaktos” for rebellion that the NT writers could have used, so we don’t need to load its meaning onto the English translation of hamartia.

The same applies to several of the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word commonly translated as sin is “chattath”. It also comes from a root meaning “miss”. It means to “miss the way” or “missing the mark”. Goldingay translates it as wrongdoing. Like the Greed word hamartia, it implies failure through getting lost, not deliberate rebellion. It does not carry all the religious baggage that we tend to load onto the word sin.

A second Hebrew word that is used commonly for what we call sin is “awon”. This comes from a root meaning to bend or twist. It describes crooked behaviour. Goldingay translates this ward as waywardness. The word means deviating from the standard or twisting the standard. It can describe a situation where a person twists the standard to justify themselves. This is a more serious failing than chattath.

The Hebrew word for rebellion is “pesha”. It is sometimes translated as “transgression” in reference to the law. This word is much stronger than the two words previously described, but it is not used so frequently. We should be careful not to load a sense of rebellion on words that don’t have that meaning because it will produce a sense of shame. The truth should lead to repentance, not condemnation.


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