What is sin? Merriam-webster defines sin as “an offense against religious or moral law, a transgression of the law of God.” You are probably thinking “Well, duh that’s what it is, everyone knows what sin is.” The problem with this definition is that it is vague and doesn’t reflect the word used in the original Hebrew or Greek. In fact, it is a generalization of three words in the Bible that are similar: sin, iniquity, and transgression In VBS we define sin as “Anything you do, say, or think that displeases God,” This is a good, simple way to define it for a child’s comprehension, but it lacks the depth of sin’s meaning in Scripture.
So how do we define sin? Well, it turns out it’s extremely easy. The words that are translated as sin in English have the same exact meaning in both the Hebrew and Greek meaning there’s no room for debate about what sin truly means. In fact, It’s original use wasn’t for defining “transgression from the law” at all. The word was chosen specifically because it was a visual analogy for teaching the concept of sin altogether.
In both Hebrew and Greek, sin means “to miss the mark” and in both languages, it is an archery term. So let’s go to the archery range and shoot some arrows to better understand the meaning of the word.
Imagine with me for a moment:
You’re with your best friend and you have your bow and arrows ready to go. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and you are surrounded by a nicely wooded area. Before you shoot your first target your friend gives you some advice.
“Okay, you see that round target over there? See that mark right in the center? That’s called the “bullseye. That is what you are shooting for.”
You listen to the advice, nod your head, and shoot the arrow from the bow. *Twang! The arrow leaves the bow at a rapid speed! The arrow goes flying through the air past your target and lands into the grassy ground below. Your friend chuckles and says.
“Well, I think you missed the target”
In Bible times when an archer shot at a target and missed you said “you missed the target’ by saying “you sinned.” It’s not that much different than a foul ball or a fault. Your task was to get something into a legal play area but because you didn’t hit, shoot, or throw straight it landed somewhere out of bounds.
This “straightness” is a concept that is emphasized in the Bible. The word for “to be righteous” in Hebrew literally means “to be straight” this is most often associated with walking straight. We can see this idea clearly in Prov 4:25-26
“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil”
This concept of “straight walking” comes from the nomadic lifestyles of the Hebrew people. When traveling from one place to another, especially over long distances, it is easy to get lost without a landmark. So what do you do? You figure out where you need to go while you still have a landmark, line yourself up with your next destination, and you walk in a straight line until you get there. As long as you walk straight, you will arrive at your destination, but if you turn to the left or right, even a little, you risk losing your bearings and becoming lost. This is why “straight” is used to represent morality. God made a “straight” path for us to walk. As long as we stay on that path we are safe and God’s blessing can be over us, but when we take a step off that path we lose our bearings, start redefining which way is the right way, and start walking in a circle of sin.
Since “to be righteous” means “to be straight” one would expect sin to carry the opposite idea: “not straight” or “crooked.” And as you would expect, this is the case. In the case of the word “sin” If we had shot the arrow straight at the target, we would have hit it, but because we were off to the left or right we missed the mark and landed out of bounds.
Now that we understand the meaning of the word Sin let’s compare types of sin and see the differences between them. (See if you can see the parallels to the idea of “straightness”)
Sin – Sin means “to miss the mark” It carries the idea of intending to do something, but failing. As Romans 3:23 says we “fall short.” Sin may or may not be intentional and is the most general word for saying “an action that is wrong.” When you say that you or someone else sinned, you are simply stating that they messed up.
Iniquity – The word iniquity in Hebrew literally means “to be bent, bowed down, or twisted.” It carries the idea of perverting something by taking something good and twisting it to be evil. The action the person is doing may not be evil in and of itself, but the purpose for which the action is done has been accomplished with bad or immoral intentions. An iniquity is always an intentional act.
Transgression/Trespass – Transgression and trespass are often interchangeable in Scripture and they mean: “To go beyond or aside, to overstep.” It carries the idea of “stepping over a line” or “departing from a path.” The transgressor knows what he is to do and what is required of him, but he chooses to disobey anyway. He “oversteps” the line God has given him and “trespasses” into territory he was instructed not to go.
And that’s all we have for today. Be sure to check out the next article where we talk about Judgement