Month: May 2018

What is sin?

I wanted to write about something else entirely but before I can, I feel I must clearly define what I mean by “sin”.

Etymology of sin

Sin is an English word used in translation for words from two distinct languages (Hebrew and Greek) with contributions from at least two more languages (Latin and Old English). As such, the meaning of the word “sin” is highly complex and deserves special attention.

Rather than struggle to cover the grounds others already have, this is a summary taken from Wikipedia:

The word derives from “Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō. The stem may be related to that of Latin ‘sons, sont-is’ guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'”. The English Biblical terms translated as “sin” or “syn” from the Biblical Greek and Jewish terms sometimes originate from words in the latter languages denoting the act or state of missing the mark; the original sense of New Testament Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia “sin”, is failure, being in error, missing the mark, especially in spear throwing; Hebrew hata “sin” originates in archery and literally refers to missing the “gold” at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error. “To sin” has been defined from a Greek concordance as “to miss the mark”.

The takeaway point is that our word – sin – is not a perfect match to the source text. It is close but not exact. You might say, our understanding of sin itself suffers from sin (hamartia).

Sin: Crime vs Weakness

The etymology of sin brings up the first of many doctrinal questions. Is sin a guilty state (as, for example, a criminal) as the Latin suggests, an offence (again criminal) as the Old English offers, or a mistake or shortcoming as the Geek and Hebrew might lead us to believe? Continue reading