Word Study #141 — The “Sin” Question

“Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage!” (Gal.5:1, KJV)  There! I did it!  A quote from the “traditional translation”!  And what’s more, I feel like shouting it at top volume every time someone in a “church service”, contemporary, liturgical, or anything in between — starts expounding on how “we all sin every day”, and need to “confess” stuff that we can’t even imagine, let alone “remember”!  If that isn’t “bondage”, I don’t know what is!

This subject has been addressed in chapter 3 of Citizens of the Kingdom, and in word studies # 3, 5, 7, 23, 27, 34, 88, 120, 121, and 128, where you will find more detail on some aspects of the question, but I’ve been asked to do a “stand-alone” treatment of the topic, so here goes.

By now, you all surely know that my first question is, “What did JESUS say?” But before we turn to that, it is necessary to sort out the vocabulary.  The confusion in “Christian” circles surrounding the idea of “sin” results from the perverse decision of translators to use that designation for three nouns, two verbs, and one adjective for all of which they actually use the word “sin” in the text, and the even more perverse choice of interpreters and doctrine-writers to add to the mix six more concepts which were never even translated “sin”, but which they include in their definitions. And that doesn’t even count the completely spurious decision of the NIV translators to render “flesh” (#85) as “sinful nature”.
Remember please, as we have noted before, that English (and most other) translations were made many centuries after “doctrines” were codified, and were highly influenced by the positions of their sponsors!

In the exercise of sorting terminology, Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament is more helpful than the classical lexicons, since classical writers did not express any “theological” orientation with these words, but simply referred to failed purpose, errors of various kinds, character faults, or neglected responsibility.   Trench has arranged the words in a sort of “order of seriousness” that may contribute to understanding.
Hamartia and hamartema, the most commonly used in the New Testament, are the most benign of the group.  Classically they referred to missing a mark, or failing to grasp a concept.  Homer used it when one of his heroes hurled his spear and missed.  Thucydides used the verb form, hamartano, of getting lost on a journey, and Aristotle used it of trying for results beyond one’s capability. None of these had any ethical baggage.  There may have been a very serious mistake, even one with dire consequences, but it was an honest mistake or failure.
Classical writers used asebeia (ungodliness) or adikia (injustice) if they intended ethical implications.  Strangely, although both of these appear in the New Testament, neither was ever rendered “sin.”
Agnoema  (ignorance of what one should have known) appears only three times (Lk.23:24, I Tim.1:13, and Heb.9:7).
Hettema (neglecting a duty, failing to render what is owed) appears only twice (Rom.11:12, I Cor.6:7).
None of these four are ever translated “sin” — by anyone except preachers!

Anomia (15x) and paranomia (1x), on the other hand, referred specifically to lawbreaking.  These were usually rendered “iniquity” or “unrighteousness”, and consistently involved a deliberate (not inadvertent) offense.
Parakoe (disobedience — see #27 and 88), was also deliberate, and only occurs three times (Rom.5:19, II Cor.10:6, Heb.2:12)
Parabasis (overstepping a line), appearing only 7x, also referred to lawbreaking, and is usually rendered “transgression”.
Paraptoma, “falling when one should have stood upright, a false step, slip, or blunder; defeat, transgression, trespass”, is rendered in the New Testament 8x “trespass”, 6x “offense”, 2x “fall”, 2x “fault”, and 4x “sins”.  It seems usually to have a sense of a deliberate act, although there is a possibility of a “bad choice” in Gal.6:1 and Jas.5:16.  The reference in James, please note, is the only place where it is connected with “confession” to a group, and that is for the purpose of mutual prayer for healing, not a ceremonial incantation.  The consequences of paraptoma are clear — death! — Eph.2:1, 2:5, Col.2:13, as well as 5 times in Romans 5.

Translators using the same label for all the hamartia-related words as well as paraptoma, which is an entirely different concept, and the inclusion of all these other words in the same indictment (by assorted individuals whose employment and reputation depends upon the acceptance of their harsh verdict by their hearers / readers) have herded that hapless audience into precisely the “yoke of bondage” that our brother Paul warned against in the opening quotation!  There is no reference in either gospels or epistles that demands continual, repetitious, corporate or individual “confession of sins” whether accidental or deliberate, real or imagined!  The single admonition in I Jn.1:9 is in the midst of his encouragement to keep on working at faithful living — acknowledging errors and moving on — by the power of the Lord Jesus!

John the Baptist had “repentance” and “confession of sins” as a major part of his message (Mt.3:6, Mk.1:4-5, Lk.3:3), prior to baptism.  Remember that Paul had to correct major flaws in the dissemination of John’s message in Ephesus (Ac.19:1-7).  The writer to the Hebrews (6:1-3), while acknowledging these as foundational, urges the readers no longer to dwell on the “elementary” parts of the Christian message, but to go on to maturity!  To “grow up”!
Notice also that in response to the Pharisees’ challenge that “only God can take away sins” (the lexical meaning of aphiemi, usually erroneously rendered “forgive” — see #7), Jesus did not argue that point, but simply declared that such authority is his — present tense — and related it to his identity:  not to his death, not to the cross, and not even to his resurrection (Mt.9:2-6, Mk.2:5-10, Lk.5:20-24).  And they got the point — they charged him with “making himself equal to God” — which of course, he was / is!  John the Baptist also referred to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:28) — also in the present tense.  Continuing to wallow in one’s supposed “sinfulness” is a direct insult to the One who has taken it away!

Jesus did indeed warn those who refused to acknowledge him (Jn.8:21,24,34) that in doing so, they were rejecting the only remedy.  But this was not addressed to his followers!  In fact, when Peter referred to himself as a “sinful man”, (Lk.5:8), Jesus ignored that designation completely, and simply invited him to join in the Kingdom work.  Others were critical of the folks that Jesus “hung out” with, who were on their list of “sinners” — publicans (Mt.9:10-11, 11:19, 21:32; Mk.2:15-16, Lk.5:27-30);  a woman of shady reputation (Lk.7:37), and others.  Later accounts add Gentiles (Gal.2:15), and people ignorant of God (Rom.5).  James includes a brother who has turned away (5:20), a person who refuses to do the good that he knows (4:17), or rich folks whose selfishness trumps brotherly sharing (4:8).  So yes, the term can be applied to a brother’s wrongdoing — but these are clearly exceptions, not expectation.  And Jesus never used hamartolos to label ANY of his own people!  Why, then, do we?
Even Paul, whose letter to the Romans is so frequently sliced and diced to “prove” doctrines of “sinfulness”,  (1) applies the term only to those who choose to oppose Jesus’ message, and (2) uses it only in the past tense of himself and his brethren.  He takes particular pains in the first three chapters to point out that people chose to ignore what God had revealed to them.  It was not their “original condition” at birth!  And in Rom.6:17, Eph.2:1-5, Col.1:13-14 and elsewhere, he vividly contrasts the “death” (which characterizes life before commitment to Jesus’ Kingdom and is attributed to both hamartia and paraptoma)   with the resurrection life shared by the believer with his new Master!

Of course, “new life” does not mean instant or automatic maturity (See #13).  Hence all the admonitions to get about the business of growing up!
Deciding to learn a musical instrument does not make you an instant virtuoso.
Devotion to a sport does not make you an automatic star.
And commitment to the Lord and his Kingdom never did confer instant “perfection”
All involve identical requirements to come to fruition.
— Focus — a single-minded, even fanatical, determination to bend every effort toward the goal
— Guidance — from teachers, coaches, more experienced “players”, and fellow-aspirants
— Practice — diligent, consistent, and conscientious.
But none of these are enhanced by self-flagellation over every blunder.  Errors need to be corrected, not merely “confessed” or “mourned”.  One’s course may need frequent adjustments, or even at times reversals.  Here is the beauty of the provision alluded-to earlier, in Jas.5:16 and Gal.6:1.

But “He (God) has rescued us from the power [ authority] of darkness, and transported us into the kingdom of the Son of his love!  It’s in him that we have the redemption — the taking away of failures [sins]” (Col.1:13-14).

Thanks be to God!


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