Sin has been a term most usually used in a religious context, and today describes any lack of conformity to the will of God; especially, any willful disregard for the norms revealed by God is a sin. The word is from the old English synn, presumed to be from Germanic *sun(d)jō (literally "it is true"). It is recorded in use as early as the 9th century. The most common formal definition is an infraction against religious or moral law. Colloquially, any thought, word, or act considered faulty, shameful, harmful to oneself or to others, or which alienates self from others and especially from God, can be called a sin. Through sin, guilt is incurred; and according to guilt, punishment is deserved. Compare Impiety and Crime. Atonement is a concept of justice and mercy, and "payment" for one's sins. An example is found in traditions of animal sacrifice (as found in early Judaism, for example). Atonement for one's sins thought through the agency of a Messiah became the central idea of many forms of Christian theology. Repentance is the act of turning from and ceasing from sin. It also implies rectifying past sins, insofar as reasonably possible.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Jewish views of sin
- 3 Christian views of sin
- 4 See also
- 5 Note
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 External links
The English word sin derives from Old English synn. The same root appears in several other Germanic languages, e.g. Old Norse synd, or German Sünde. The word may derive, ultimately, from *es-, one of the Indo-European roots that meant "to be," and is a present participle, "being." Latin, also has an old present participle of esse in the word sons, sont-, which came to mean "guilty" in Latin. The root meaning would appear to be, "it is true;" that is, "the charge has been proven." The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is often translated as sin in the New Testament; it means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target".
"Sin" was also the name of the Babylonian moon god. Some students in recent times have postulated a connection with the modern English word "sin", but this can only be a folk-etymology, because the etymology shown above from Anglo-Saxon synn is historically documented, the certified cognates are in Germanic languages, and no connection with the Babylonian religion can be cited.
Jewish views of sin
Judaism regards the violation of divine commandments to be a sin. Judaism teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being. Mankind was created with an inclination to do evil (Genesis 8:21), and the ability to master this inclination (Genesis 4:7) and choose good over evil (Psalm 37:27). Judaism uses the term "sin" to include violations of Jewish law that are not necessarily a lapse in morality. According to the Jewish encyclopedia, "Man is responsible for sin because he is endowed with free will ("behirah"); yet he is by nature frail, and the tendency of the mind is to evil: "For the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. viii. 21; Yoma 20a; Sanh. 105a). Therefore, God in His mercy allowed man to repent and be forgiven." Judaism holds that all people sin at various points in their lives, and hold that God tempers justice with mercy.
The generic Hebrew word for any kind of sin is aveira. Based on verses in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism describes three levels of sin.
- Pesha or Mered - An intentional sin; an action committed in deliberate defiance of God;
- Avon - This is a sin of lust or uncontrollable emotion. It is a sin done knowingly, but not done to defy God;
- Cheit - This is an unintentional sin.
Judaism holds that no human being is perfect, and all people have sinned many times. However certain states of sin (i.e. avon or cheit) does not condemn a person to damnation; only one or two truly grievous sins lead to anything approaching the Biblical conception of hell. The Biblical and rabbinic conception of God is that of a creator who tempers justice with mercy. Based on the views of Rabbeinu Tam in the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Rosh HaShanah 17b), God is said to have thirteen attributes of mercy:
- God is merciful before someone sins, even though God knows that a person is capable of sin.
- God is merciful to a sinner even after the person has sinned.
- God represents the power to be merciful even in areas that a human would not expect or deserve.
- God is compassionate, and eases the punishment of the guilty.
- God is gracious even to those who are not deserving.
- God is slow to anger.
- God is abundant in kindness.
- God is a god of truth, thus we can count on God's promises to forgive repentant sinners.
- God guarantees kindness to future generations, as the deeds of the righteous patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) have benefits to all their descendants.
- God forgives intentional sins if the sinner repents.
- God forgives a deliberate angering of Him if the sinner repents.
- God forgives sins that are committed in error.
- God wipes away the sins from those who repent.
A classical rabbinic work, Midrash Avot de Rabbi Natan, states:
- One time, when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking in Jerusalem with Rabbi Yehoshua, they arrived at where the Temple in Jerusalem now stood in ruins. "Woe to us" cried Rabbi Yehoshua, "for this house where atonement was made for Israel's sins now lies in ruins!" Answered Rabban Yochanan, "We have another, equally important source of atonement, the practice of gemilut hasadim (loving kindness), as it is stated 'I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice'".
The Babylonian Talmud teaches that "Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar both explain that as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now, one's table atones [when the poor are invited as guests]." (Tractate Berachot, 55a.)
The traditional liturgy of the Days of Awe (the High Holy Days; i.e. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) states that prayer, repentance and tzedakah (charitable actions) are ways to repent for sin. In Judaism, sins committed against people (rather than against God or in the heart) must first be corrected and put right to the best of a person's ability; a sin which has not also been put right as best as possible cannot truly be said to be repented.
Jewish conceptions of atonement for sin
Atonement for sins is discussed in the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Rituals for atonement occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem, and were performed by the Kohanim, the Israelite priests. These services included song, prayer, offerings and animal sacrifices known as the korbanot. The rites for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are prescribed in the book of Leviticus chapter 15. The ritual of the scapegoat, sent into the wilderness to be claimed by Azazel, was one of these observances (Lev. 15:20-22).
A number of animal sacrifices were prescribed in the Torah (five books of Moses) to make atonement: a sin-offering for sins, and a guilt offering for religious trespasses. The significance of animal sacrifice is not expanded on at length in the Torah, though Genesis IX:4 and Leviticus XVII suggest that blood and vitality were linked. It should be noted that Jews never believed that the aim of sacrifice is to pay the debt for sins. Later Biblical prophets occasionally make statements to the effect that the hearts of the people were more important than their sacrifices - "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (I Samuel 15:22); "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6); "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17) (see also Isaiah 1:11, Psalm 40:6-8).
Although the animal sacrifices were prescribed for atonement, but there is no place where the Hebrew Bible says that animal sacrifice is the only means of atonement. Hebrew Bible teaches that it is possible to return to God through repentance and prayer alone. For example, In the books of Jonah and Esther, where both Jews and non-Jews repented, prayed to God and were forgiven for their sins without having offered any sacrifices.
Repentance is also a means of atonement (See Ezekiel 33:11, 33:19, Jeremiah 36:3, etc.) The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah which literally means to "return to God." The prophet said (Hosea 14:3), "Take with you words, and return to God." Judaism teaches that our personal relationship with God allows us to turn directly to Him at any time, as it says in Malachi 3:7, "Return to Me and I shall return to you," and in Ezekiel 18:27, "When the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." Additionally, God is extremely compassionate and forgiving as is indicated in Daniel 9:18, "We do not present our supplications before You because of our righteousness, but because of Your abundant mercy."
Hebrew concept of sin
The Hebrew word translated as sin is khate, Strong's Concordance:2399—a crime, sin, fault. The root of khate is khaw-taw, Strong:2398—to miss, to err from the mark (speaking of an archer), to sin, to stumble.
Christian views of sin
In Western Christianity, sin is often viewed as a legal infraction or contract violation, and so salvation tends to be viewed in legal terms. In Eastern Christianity, sin is more often viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and between people and God. The Greek word in the New Testament that is translated in English as "sin" is hamartia, which literally means missing the target. Consequently, salvation is viewed more in terms of reconciliation and vastly improved relationships. These two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 1 John 3:4 states: "Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." (NRSV)
Catholic doctrine distinguishes between personal sin and original sin. Personal sins are either mortal or venial.
Mortal sins are sins of grave (serious) matter, where the sinner is aware that the act (or omission) is both a sin and a grave matter, and performs the act (or omission) with deliberate consent. The act of committing a mortal sin cuts off the sinner from God's grace; it is in itself a rejection of God. If left un-reconciled, mortal sins result in eternal punishment in Hell.
Venial sins are sins which do not meet the conditions for mortal sins. The sin may be one that is not a grave matter, or if a grave matter, the individual does not realize that the act is a sin or grave matter, or does not deliberately consent to the sin. The act of committing a venial sin does not cut off the sinner from God's grace, as the sinner has not rejected God. However, venial sins do injure the relationship between the sinner and God, and as such, must be reconciled to God, either through the sacrament of reconciliation or receiving the Eucharist.
Both mortal and venial sins have a dual nature of punishment. They incur both guilt for the sin, yielding eternal punishment, and temporal punishment for the sin. Reconciliation is an act of God's mercy, and addresses the guilt and eternal punishment for sin. Purgatory and indulgences address the temporal punishment for sin, and exercise of God's justice.
Catholic doctrine also sees sin as being twofold: Sin is, at once, any evil or immoral action which infracts God's law and the inevitable consequences, the state of being that comes about by committing the sinful action. Sin can and does alienate a person both from God and the community. Hence, the Catholic Church's insistence on reconciliation with both God and the Church itself.
According to Catholicism, in addition to Jesus, the Virgin Mary also lived her entire life without sin. It is believed that Jesus assumed her directly into heaven after the end of her life on Earth; see Assumption of Mary. The belief in Mary's sinlessness is shared by many Eastern Orthodox theologians, but is not universally held and is not generally considered to be a point of dogma. In addition, the Orthodox view of the sinlessness of the Theotokos is not quite of the same nature as that held by Catholics, since the Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception is not an Orthodox doctrine.
- See also: Seven deadly sins
Eastern/Oriental Orthodox views
The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox use sin both to refer to humanity's fallen condition and to refer to individual sinful acts. In many ways the Orthodox Christian view of sin is similar to the Jewish, although neither form of Orthodoxy makes formal distinctions among "grades" of sins.
The Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church do not generally take a legalistic or juridical approach in their views of sin. For them, sin does not exist as an abstract and must be approached on an individual basis. Likewise, the prescription for sin must be filtered through human understanding in order to be effective. There is nothing within the Church that is automatic (latae sententiae). Though some acts are clearly always sinful (e.g., adultery), what is a sin for one man may not be for another; neither does the Orthodox Church see all sin as being the same.
The traditional practice of the Orthodox is to have a confessor, sometimes referred to as a spiritual father, to whom one confesses and who treats the sin on an individual basis. Thus, to make a blanket statement about any sin and how to deal with it would be inappropriate for the Orthodox Church. At best a generalized guideline may be stated with the knowledge that an experienced confessor will know when to effectively "bend the rules".
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Many Protestants teach that, due to original sin, man has lost any and all capacity to move towards reconciliation with God (Romans 3:23;6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3); in fact, this inborn sin turns humans away from God and towards themselves and their own desires (Isaiah 53:6a). Thus, humans may be brought back into a relationship with God only by way of God's rescuing the sinner from his hopeless condition (Galatians 5:17-21; Ephesians 2:4-10) through Jesus's ransom sacrifice (Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13-15). Salvation is sola fide (by faith alone); sola gratia (by grace alone); and is begun and completed by God alone through Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9). This understanding of original sin (Romans 5:12-19), is most closely associated with Calvinism (vid. total depravity) and Lutheranism. Calvinism allows for the "goodness" of humanity through the belief in God's common grace. Methodist theology adapts the concept by stating that humans, entirely sinful and totally depraved, can only "do good" through God's prevenient grace.
This is in contrast to the Catholic teaching that while sin has tarnished the original goodness of humanity prior to the Fall, it has not entirely extinguished that goodness, or at least the potential for goodness, allowing humans to reach towards God to share in the Redemption which Jesus Christ won for them. Some non-Catholic or Orthodox groups hold similar views.
There is dispute about where sin originated some refer to Ezekiel 28 that suggests that sin originated with Satan when he coveted the position that rightfully belongs to God.
Defined types of sin
- Original sin -- Most denominations of Christianity interpret the Garden of Eden account in Genesis in terms of the fall of man. Adam and Eve's disobedience was the first sin man ever committed, and their original sin (or the effects of the sin) is passed on to their descendants (or has become a part of their environment). See also: total depravity.
- Venial sin
- Mortal sin
- Eternal sin -- Commonly called the Unforgivable sin (mentioned in Matthew chapter 12, verse 31), this is perhaps the most controversial sin, whereby someone has become an apostate, forever denying himself a life of faith and experience of salvation; the precise nature of this sin is often disputed.
Christian teachings on atonement, or the remedy for sin
In Christianity, atonement refers to the redemption achieved by Jesus Christ by his crucifixion and resurrection. Its centrality means that it has been the source of much discussion and some controversy throughout Christian history. Christians begin with the proposition that the death of Jesus Christ was a sacrifice that relieves believers of the burden of their sins. But what was the actual meaning of Christ's death? Why did He have to die? The meaning of an event of such transcendent significance to Christians is hard to capture in any one verbal formula. But several have been ventured. Ironically, what Jesus himself is said to have taught on the subject of atonement when he was alive, differs from all of these. He stated that in order to find forgiveness from God for our sins, we first had to forgive one another, Mt. 6:14-15, see also Sermon on the Mount.
Though it is often debated or dismissed by many, one could also presume the argument that when man separated itself from God through the act of disobedience in the garden of Eden, a "blood line" was drawn between man and God. This is evidenced in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible which accounts of sacrifices made to God in order to atone for sin. Keeping within the same argument, one could then say that in an effor to reconcile man to God, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the messenger delivering news of God's Intentions. In order for man to be reconciled to God, and the ruling of sin eliminated from mankind, a mediator had to exist. As man is incapable of achieving or creating perfection, God had to send His Son, Jesus Christ to become the mediator.
The situation is best explained in that sin (those things which oppose God) can be imagined as a river flowing between two cliffs. On one cliff stands mankind, and on the other stands God. Man is not capable of creating the bridge between man and God, as man is imperfect, and God IS perfect. Therefore, God created the bridge between man and God as an act of love.
Also, note that some scholars such as Thomas McElwain consider the belief that Jesus has already paid the whole price for sin as a later belief, one completely unknown to Paul, Jesus or any of the disciples of the first century. They argue that "the followers of Jesus Christ went on participating in the sacrificial system of the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in AD 70" and "the apostolic church, for more than a generation after the ascension of Jesus, still offered the Old Testament sacrifices." The epistle to the Hebrews clearly teaches that Jesus replaces the temple service, its sacrifices and its priests. But they argue that "the historical fact is that such belief came only in connection with the destruction of the temple." The composition of the book of Hebrews has been dated to shortly after the Pauline epistles were collected and began to circulate, circa AD 95 which is after the destruction of the temple.
Some later teachers who came after Jesus are as follows:
- Origen taught that the death of Christ was a ransom paid to Satan in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. This was opposed by theologians like St. Gregory Nazianzen, who maintained that this would have made Satan equal to God.
- Irenaeus of Lyons taught that Christ recapitulated in Himself all the stages of life of sinful man, and that His perfect obedience substituted for Adam's disobedience.
- Athanasius of Alexandria taught that Christ came to overcome death and corruption, and to remake humanity in God's image again. See On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.
- Augustine of Hippo said that sin was not a created thing at all, but that it was "privatio boni", a "taking away of good", and uncreation.
- Anselm of Canterbury taught that Christ's death satisfied God's offended sense of justice over the sins of humanity. Also, God rewarded Christ's obedience, which built up a storehouse of merit and a treasury of grace that believers could share by their faith in Christ. This view is known as the satisfaction theory, the merit theory, or sometimes the commercial theory. Anselm's teaching is contained in his treatise Cur Deus Homo, which means Why God Became Human. Anselm's ideas were later expanded utilizing Aristotelian philosophy into a grand theological system by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, particularly in his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae, which eventually became official Roman Catholic doctrine.
- Pierre Abélard held that Christ's Passion was God suffering with His creatures in order to show the greatness of His love for them. This is often known as the moral influence view, and has dominated Christian liberalism.
- Martin Luther and John Calvin, leaders of the Protestant Reformation, owed much to Anselm's theory and taught that Christ, the only sinless person, was obedient to take upon Himself the penalty for the sins that should have been visited on men and women. This view is a version of substitutionary atonement and is sometimes called substitutionary punishment or a satisfaction theory, though it is not identical to that of Anselm. Calvin additionally advocated the doctrine of limited atonement, which teaches that the atonement applies only to the sins of the elect rather than to all of humanity.
- Arminianism has traditionally taught what is known as "Moral Government" theology or the Governmental theory. Drawing primarily from the works of Jacobus Arminius and Hugo Grotius, the Governmental theory teaches that Christ suffered for humankind so that God could forgive humans while still maintaining divine justice. Unlike the perspectives of Anselm of Canterbury or Calvinism, this view states that Christ was not punished for humanity, for true forgiveness would not be possible if humankind's offenses were already punished. Christ's suffering was a real and meaningful substitutionary atonement for the punishment humans deserve, but Christ was not punished on behalf of the human race. This view has prospered in traditional Methodism and all who follow the teachings of John Wesley, and has been detailed by, among others, 19th century Methodist theologian John Miley in his classic Atonement in Christ and 20th century Church of the Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in his Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Variations of this view have also been espoused by 18th century Puritan Jonathan Edwards and 19th century revival leader Charles Grandison Finney.
- Karl Barth taught that Christ's death manifested God's love and His hatred for sin.
The several ideas of these and many more Christian theologians can perhaps be summed up under these rubrics:
- Victory: the idea that Jesus defeated Death through his death, and gave life to those in the grave. Both following models may be understood as variations of the Victory idea:
- Participation: the idea that God's death on the cross completed his identification with humanity - God's participation in our sin and sorrow allowing our participation in his love and triumph;
- Ransom: the idea that Jesus released humanity from a legal obligation to the Devil, incurred by sin. (Theories involving ransom owed to divine justice are generally classified under Punishment, below.)
- Punishment: the idea that God assumed the penalty for human sins on the Cross, and volunteered punishment as the price paid to release humanity from so that the faithful might escape it;
- Government: the idea that God forgives the penalty due humans for their sins, provisioned on their acceptance of that forgiveness, but that Christ suffered on the Cross in order to demonstrate the seriousness of sin;
- Example: the idea that Jesus' death was meant as a lesson in ideal submission to the will of God, and to show the path to eternal life;
- Revelation: the idea that Jesus' death was meant to reveal God's nature and to help humans know God better.
- Thomas McElwain, Islam In The Bible, Printed In Great Britain for Minerva Press, ISBN 0-75410-217-3
- Reported by Aboo Hurayrah & 'Aa'ishah & collected by al-Bukhaaree (eng. trans. vol.8 p.315 no.474)
- Hein, David. "Regrets Only: A Theology of Remorse." The Anglican 33, no. 4 (October 2004): 5-6.
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