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The Concepts of Sin in the New Testament

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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 John 8:21Then said Jesus again to them, I go my way, and you shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come.
American King James Version×
) or specific acts of sin (Matthew 12:31 Matthew 12:31Why I say to you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven to men.
American King James Version×
; 1 John 5:16 1 John 5:16If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not to death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not to death. There is a sin to death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
American King James Version×
). The apostle Paul also used it to personify an ungodly power that can control people (Romans 6:6 Romans 6:6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.
American King James Version×
). It also refers to the inward element that produces wrongdoing (Romans 3:9 Romans 3:9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
American King James Version×
; 7:13).

Hamartia entered the world by Adam (Romans 5:12 Romans 5:12Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned:
American King James Version×
). 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 Matthew 5:48Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×
). As sinners we “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×
).

God's laws give us a knowledge of hamartia, or sin (Romans 3:20 Romans 3:20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
American King James Version×
). We must not continue in such sin (Romans 6:1-2 Romans 6:1-2 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
American King James Version×
), but repent, be forgiven and have our sins blotted out (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
; 3:19).

• Unrighteousness, iniquity: adikia, adikos (and other forms of the same word). Adikia literally means “not right” and denotes injustice (Luke 18:6 Luke 18:6And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge said.
American King James Version×
) 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 James 3:6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
American King James Version×
). God rejects workers of iniquity (Luke 13:27 Luke 13:27But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not from where you are; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.
American King James Version×
) and commands us to depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19 2 Timothy 2:19Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

God is righteous (Romans 9:14 Romans 9:14What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
American King James Version×
) 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 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×
).

• 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 Matthew 6:14-15 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
American King James Version×
). Jesus was delivered to death for our trespasses (Romans 4:25 Romans 4:25Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.
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). Through our acceptance of His sacrifice in our place, our trespasses, our offenses, are not imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:19 2 Corinthians 5:19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
American King James Version×
).

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 Ephesians 1:7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
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; 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13 Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
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). Our Christian task is to help those overtaken in any trespass (Galatians 6:1 Galatians 6:1Brothers, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
American King James Version×
). Through the fall (trespass) of Israel, God has brought salvation to the gentiles (Romans 11:11 Romans 11:11I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
American King James Version×
).

• 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 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
, 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 Matthew 7:23And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
American King James Version×
) or fail to uphold His laws. God will remove all such people from His coming world-ruling Kingdom (Matthew 13:41 Matthew 13:41The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
American King James Version×
).

The Pharisees were prime examples of those who seemed to be righteous but in reality were full of anomia (Matthew 23:28 Matthew 23:28Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
American King James Version×
). Such lawlessness is prophesied to be the dominant spirit of the time immediately before Jesus Christ's return (Matthew 24:12 Matthew 24:12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
American King James Version×
). God hates lawlessness (Hebrews 1:9 Hebrews 1:9You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
American King James Version×
) and commands us to repent of it. We are blessed when God forgives our lawless deeds (Romans 4:7 Romans 4:7Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
American King James Version×
) and He remembers our lawless deeds no more (Hebrews 10:17 Hebrews 10:17And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
American King James Version×
).

• 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 Romans 4:15Because the law works wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
American King James Version×
). 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 Romans 5:14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
American King James Version×
) and Eve (1 Timothy 2:14 1 Timothy 2:14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
American King James Version×
) transgressed God's instruction, though of the two only Eve was deceived. In Galatians 3:19 Galatians 3:19Why then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
American King James Version×
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 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×
), we naturally tend to cross the boundary lines set by God (Romans 7:18 Romans 7:18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
American King James Version×
). That is why Christ, who “by means of death” is mediator of the New Covenant, is so important (Hebrews 9:15 Hebrews 9:15And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
American King James Version×
). 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 Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×
).

“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 Hebrews 9:13-16 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
American King James Version×
).

• 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 1 Timothy 1:9Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for murderers,
American King James Version×
) that He may bring them to repentance. Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6 Romans 5:6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
American King James Version×
). 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 2 Peter 2:5-6 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample to those that after should live ungodly;
American King James Version×
). God is angry with the ungodliness of men (Romans 1:18 Romans 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
American King James Version×
) and warns us against any corrupting activities that will produce even more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16-17 2 Timothy 2:16-17 16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their word will eat as does a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
American King James Version×
; Titus 2:12 Titus 2:12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
American King James Version×
).

Ultimately, God will intervene to “turn away ungodliness” from Israel, His chosen people (Romans 11:26 Romans 11:26And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
American King James Version×
). 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 1 Peter 4:16-18 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. 17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
American King James Version×
; 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 Matthew 6:12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
American King James Version×
). 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 Romans 5:19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
American King James Version×
). By bringing every thought into captivity, we can be “ready to punish all disobedience” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
American King James Version×
). Our disobedience merits a “just reward” (Hebrews 2:2 Hebrews 2:2For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;
American King James Version×
).

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 Romans 11:30-32 30 For as you in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: 31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all.
American King James Version×
), which prevented Israel's first generation from entering the promised land (Hebrews 4:6 Hebrews 4:6Seeing therefore it remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
American King James Version×
). 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 Ephesians 2:2Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience:
American King James Version×
). We are warned against being deceived by such obstinate people, who attract God's fierce anger (Ephesians 5:6 Ephesians 5:6Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things comes the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.
American King James Version×
; Colossians 3:6 Colossians 3:6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience:
American King James Version×
).

• Ignorance, error: agnoema. This word occurs only once, in Hebrews 9:7 Hebrews 9:7But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
American King James Version×
, 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 Luke 23:4Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.
American King James Version×
, 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 1 Corinthians 6:7Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong? why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
American King James Version×
). 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 Hebrews 8:8For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×
). Here “fault” is memphomai, meaning “blame.” The Israelites' heart was to blame rather than any of God's laws.

Ephesians 1:4 Ephesians 1:4According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
American King James Version×
tells us that those chosen by God are to be “without blame” (amomos, meaning “rebuke,” “blemish,” “blot” or “censure”).

Matthew 18:15 Matthew 18:15Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother.
American King James Version×
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 Romans 6:16-18 16 Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
American King James Version×
). GN

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