Examining the many Greek words defining the concepts of sin expands our understanding of sin and how it affects us.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread, one of God's annual festivals, depicts the Christian's need to eliminate sin from his life. But to live a sin-free life we must first understand what sin is. God gives us this understanding through many scriptures.
The New Testament, which was written in Greek, contains many words that add to our understanding of the concept of sin. These are translated into various English words in addition to "sin." A close study of the use of these terms can prove rewarding in expanding our understanding of sin and its effects in our life. Following is a summary of the Greek words defining the concepts of sin.
• Falling short: hamartia, hamartema, hamartano. This word in various forms occurs around 250 times and is the most common way in the New Testament to express the concept of sin. The central idea is to "miss the mark." This word is used several ways. It can refer to general sin or wrongdoing (John:8:21) or specific acts of sin (Matthew:12:31; 1 John:5:16). The apostle Paul also used it to personify an ungodly power that can control people (Romans:6:6). It also refers to the inward element that produces wrongdoing (Romans:3:9; 7:13).
Hamartia entered the world by Adam (Romans:5:12). He disobeyed God and disregarded His instruction. Adam missed the mark and fell short. Ultimately, this mark (of perfection) is nothing short of the perfection of God's character-the ultimate aim of God's spiritual children (Matthew:5:48). As sinners we "fall short of the glory of God" (Romans:3:23).
God's laws give us a knowledge of hamartia, or sin (Romans:3:20). We must not continue in such sin (Romans:6:1-2), but repent, be forgiven and have our sins blotted out (Acts:2:38; 3:19).
• Unrighteousness, iniquity: adikia, adikos (and other forms of the same word). Adikia literally means "not right" and denotes injustice (Luke:18:6) or dishonesty. It is the comprehensive term for a wrong situation or wrongdoing between individuals. The human tongue is a "world of iniquity" (James:3:6). God rejects workers of iniquity (Luke:13:27) and commands us to depart from iniquity (2 Timothy:2:19).
God is righteous (Romans:9:14) and expects us to be like Him. God will forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we are willing to confess our sins and ask Him for forgiveness (1 John:1:9).
• Trespass: paraptoma. This word occurs 23 times, coming from para, meaning "aside," and pipto, meaning "to fall." It refers to a false step, blunder, sideslip, lapse or deviation-the failure to maintain godly conduct by the resistance to temptation.
Perhaps the most familiar use of the term is in Jesus' example prayer to His disciples, where we are encouraged to "forgive men their trespasses" (Matthew:6:14-15). Jesus was delivered to death for our trespasses (Romans:4:25). Through our acceptance of His sacrifice in our place, our trespasses, our offenses, are not imputed to us (2 Corinthians:5:19).
When we were dead in our sins, we were brought back to life through God's grace and forgiven by Christ's sacrifice (Ephesians:1:7; 2:1, 5; Colossians:2:13). Our Christian task is to help those overtaken in any trespass (Galatians:6:1). Through the fall (trespass) of Israel, God has brought salvation to the gentiles (Romans:11:11).
• Iniquity, lawlessness: anomia. This word occurs 15 times and literally means "no law." It is usually translated "iniquity" in the King James Version and "lawlessness" in the New King James, though in 1 John:3:4, which contains perhaps the best-known definition of sin, it is translated "transgression" in the King James Version.
Even outwardly religious professing Christians who may do many wonderful things fall under God's stern judgment if they continue to practice lawlessness (Matthew:7:23) or fail to uphold His laws. God will remove all such people from His coming world-ruling Kingdom (Matthew:13:41).
The Pharisees were prime examples of those who seemed to be righteous but in reality were full of anomia (Matthew:23:28). Such lawlessness is prophesied to be the dominant spirit of the time immediately before Jesus Christ's return (Matthew:24:12). God hates lawlessness (Hebrews:1:9) and commands us to repent of it. We are blessed when God forgives our lawless deeds (Romans:4:7) and He remembers our lawless deeds no more (Hebrews:10:17).
• Transgression: parabasis. This word comes from para, meaning "across," and basis, meaning "foot." It holds the meaning of violating a specific law, crossing a specific line God has drawn. Unless a line exists to cross over, no transgression can be committed (Romans:4:15). The effect of the law is to render people "transgressors" when they violate, or cross over, the boundary God has set.
Both Adam (Romans:5:14) and Eve (1 Timothy:2:14) transgressed God's instruction, though of the two only Eve was deceived. In Galatians:3:19 we read that God added a law alongside another law "because of transgressions"-disobedience to existing law or instruction.
Because of human nature's hostility toward God (Romans:8:7), we naturally tend to cross the boundary lines set by God (Romans:7:18). That is why Christ, who "by means of death" is mediator of the New Covenant, is so important (Hebrews:9:15). His death redeems (purchases) us from transgressions of God's laws under the covenant to Israel. The promise of the New Covenant through Christ brings forgiveness of our transgressions and allows the same laws to be written in our hearts (Jeremiah:31:31-34).
"For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator" (Hebrews:9:13-16).
• Ungodliness: asebeia. This word literally means "no worship." It appears in the Bible in various forms 17 times. Asebeia is the opposite of eusebeia, which literally means "good worship" or godliness. Asebeia means living in rebellion against God and His standards. If anomia is defiance of God's laws, then asebeia is defiance of God Himself. It can also mean irreligion in general.
God made His law for the lawless and ungodly (1 Timothy:1:9) that He may bring them to repentance. Christ died for the ungodly (Romans:5:6). The world in Noah's time was destroyed by a flood because of the ungodliness of the earth's inhabitants (2 Peter:2:5-6). God is angry with the ungodliness of men (Romans:1:18) and warns us against any corrupting activities that will produce even more ungodliness (2 Timothy:2:16-17; Titus:2:12).
Ultimately, God will intervene to "turn away ungodliness" from Israel, His chosen people (Romans:11:26). If God allows persecutions against His chosen people to judge and purify them, how much more serious will be the judgment He will bring on the ungodly (1 Peter:4:16-18; Jude 15).
• Debt: opheilema. This word occurs only twice and is used as a metaphor for offense or sin in Jesus' example prayer known as the Lord's Prayer (Matthew:6:12). Our sins are debts we owe to God.
• Disobedience: parakoe, apeitheia. This word comes from para, meaning "aside," and akouo, meaning "to hear," and has the meaning of "hearing amiss." It means a refusal to hear, or heed, God's commands and is used three times. It was through Adam's disobedience that all humanity was made sinners (Romans:5:19). By bringing every thought into captivity, we can be "ready to punish all disobedience" (2 Corinthians:10:5-6). Our disobedience merits a "just reward" (Hebrews:2:2).
Apeitheia is used seven times and literally means "not persuaded." It refers to obstinate rejection of the will of God. It describes the nation of Israel's unbelief (Romans:11:30-32), which prevented Israel's first generation from entering the promised land (Hebrews:4:6). We are warned not to go the same way (verse 11).
Satan's spirit dominates the "sons of disobedience" of this world (Ephesians:2:2). We are warned against being deceived by such obstinate people, who attract God's fierce anger (Ephesians:5:6; Colossians:3:6).
• Ignorance, error: agnoema. This word occurs only once, in Hebrews:9:7, where it is translated "errors" in the KJV. The NKJV translates this as "sins committed in ignorance." It refers to sins committed inadvertently through ignorance or unwitting error.
Lack of knowledge, however, does not mitigate the sin, which still needs to be atoned for. Ignorance is no excuse. In ancient Israel the high priest entered the tabernacle each year on the Day of Atonement to make an offering for these sins. As we become aware of our ignorance, we need to repent. Even sins of ignorance must be covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
• Fault: amomos, hettema, memphomai, aition, elencho. Several Greek words are translated "fault" in English. Pontius Pilate found Christ "without fault" (Greek aition, Luke:23:4, 14), meaning without cause, crime or legal ground for punishment.
Paul found fault (Greek hettema, meaning "decrease," "diminishing" or "loss") with the Corinthian brethren who were taking each other to court (1 Corinthians:6:7). The NKJV translates this as "utter failure."
Paul wrote that the problem with the Old Covenant was "finding fault with them [Israel and Judah]" (Hebrews:8:8). Here "fault" is memphomai, meaning "blame." The Israelites' heart was to blame rather than any of God's laws.
Ephesians:1:4 tells us that those chosen by God are to be "without blame" (amomos, meaning "rebuke," "blemish," "blot" or "censure").
Matthew:18:15 instructs us that, if a brother trespasses (Greek hamartano, meaning to sin or fall short), we are to "tell him his fault alone" (elencho, meaning "to tell a fault," "convict," "reprove" or "rebuke").
Understanding what sin is and recognizing its ruinous, destructive effect on human life is the first step to overcoming sin. The Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures our freedom from enslavement to sin. God has released us from sin through Jesus Christ's sacrifice, and we are to remain free from sin.
Rather than being enslaved to sin, Paul exhorts us to serve a different master: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans:6:16-18). GN