Opinions on faith and life

No Trespassing

2011-01-31

Back a few years ago I wrote about whether or not all sins are alike to God, and argued that while all sins breach the relationship between us and God, they have different penalties or influences. Just as even we fallible humans know the difference between an accident and a deliberate crime, so also God does not equate lying about one’s age with murdering one’s neighbor. To treat these both the same would be terribly unjust.

But what I didn’t do is to take a look at the various words in the NT typically rendered by the all-encompassing word “sin”. While of course the context of each will carry most of the weight of interpretation, it’s good to know the definitions. Of course there is overlap, and various writers may use terms interchangeably. But let’s let the reader have the tools to decide instead of spoon-feeding someone else’s opinion, scholarly though it may be. Here are the main ones:

  1. παραβασις (parabasis)– to trespass, cross the line, encroach, transgress, unlawfully set foot upon another’s property
  2. παραπτωμα (paraptōma)– to fall beside, stumble, blunder, be at fault
  3. προσκομμα (proskomma)– an obstacle or stumbling block, such as when one trips over a root above ground
  4. σκανδαλον (skandalon)– to trap/ensnare, trip up
  5. ἁμαρτια (hamartia)– to fail, err, fall short
  6. αστοχεω (astocheō)– to miss the mark
The first one indicates a deliberate choice or plan to sin; the second indicates an accidental or careless sin; the third and fourth indicate a plan to cause sin; the fifth and sixth indicate a failure of ability, meaning one did not do what one was capable of doing, whether by refusing to act or not putting forth sufficient effort. We could also list them in English in general categories as follows: Even in the Mosaic law we see different sacrifices for different sins, and recognition that some sins were deliberate while others were in ignorance (Lev. 4-6, Ezekiel 45:20, Heb. 9:7). Before the law, even Job made sacrifices for others’ sins without their even having confessed (Job 1:5). So there is plenty of scripture to back up the claim that God does not see all sin alike.

But the question arises as to whether a Bible translation should always use the word “sin” regardless of what the Greek meaning may be. Some would claim that to use “failure” or “blunder” for example, softens the seriousness of sin and is an attempt to deny it. Every little thing is deemed worthy of eternal punishment in hell in such a view, so it cannot allow the slightest nuance. But again, even the most clueless parent knows that it’s one thing for a child to do wrong, but quite another for the child to try to cover it up. Or if it was an accident, the person causing it still has to pay for damages but is not penalized as when the damage is deliberate or negligent.

So what do you think? Always use “sin” and err on the side of caution, use the distinct words and let the reader figure out whether a given passage is talking about an offense against God, or use entire phrases that explain the full meaning, such as “those who offend God by accident” or “those who offend God purposely”?

19 Comments

Greg Anderson

Lydia, I agree with what you wrote. Let me also say that allowing Jesus’ horrific death is not the same thing as "planning" it from the beginning. And I’ll just leave it at that.

Lydia

"How could the same God who watched his Son Yeshua clap his little hands at Shavout and sing with the unbrideled joy so common to little children "plan" such a cruel death (as both Catholic and Reformed doctrine claim) for his Son in future? " Greg, if I could chime in with another perspective...we seperate Jesus Christ, Lord of Hosts from God. He WAS and IS God. He was God in the flesh during the Incarnation and felt human pain and sorrow. But He was also God. He was at the beginning, at the Fall and was introduced as a "promised" Savior in Genesis 3. God hung on that Cross. God allowed God to be crucified. He was God in the flesh for 33 years but He was still God. One true God. Three persons.

SaberTruth

I’ve been debating that very point in the comments at my earlier article Did Jesus Claim to be God?.

Greg Anderson

Thanks for the lively discussion SaberTruth! It’s always good to have a free exchange of polemic and concepts in the marketplace of ideas! And, it’s even better when the parties involved can remain civil and amiable. I guess that’s why Copernicus didn’t run afoul of the inquisition and Galileo did. With Copernicus it was always "what if...?" whereas Galileo always maintained that "it is..."

SaberTruth

You’re quite welcome Q-- er, Greg. :-D I can always trust you to "kick the tires". But I will say that sometimes I’m Copernicus and other times I’m Galileo, depending on the inquisitor’s demeanor. :-)

SaberTruth

A phrase from the first Spiderman movie comes to mind: "a sadistic choice" between God’s Son and all mankind. Strategically, the cosmic prosecuting attorney surely believed he had his Opponent trapped: if God planned His Son’s death then He must be cruel; if He did not, then He must be weak or short-sighted. And if He couldn’t come up with a plan that didn’t involve anyone suffering, then He must be rather unintelligent as well. But it gets even more interesting! If God is holy, then He cannot allow unholiness, because otherwise holiness loses all meaning. It would be like claiming I keep my blog free of trolls but do nothing to stop them. Yet if I ruthlessly smash and ban all trolls from my blog, I will be accused of being insecure or feeling threatened-- just as God allegedly is for being intolerant of unholiness. But the prosecuting attorney forgot one very important thing, mate: "I’m Captain Jack Sparrow!" ---er--- God is really, really smart, faultlessly holy, purely loving, and better at Cosmic Chess than anybody. And as any chess player knows, the best ones are those who can think ahead to all possible moves throughout the game. (yep, this is "middle knowledge" and I’ll surely be labeled a Molinist because of it) Taking all the attributes of God together, the most rational conclusion to which I can come is that there was no better way to allow free will and yet also take away sin, or to uphold justice while also offering mercy. Even Jesus essentially asked the Father whether any other way could be found, but we all know in hindsight that there couldn’t. The question comes, then, whether the death had to be cruel. After all, even the sacrifices of the OT were done humanely. But then... how could scripture say that Jesus, our High Priest, could sympathize with our suffering if He never experienced the extremes of human suffering? Could it be that there was more to that whole ordeal, from mock trial to the cruelest of deaths, than meets the eye? What if there was more to be gained than simply payment for sin? The answers to such questions are only hinted at in scripture, but that is where we learn to trust God for more than just our salvation (funny how so many beleivers trust God to save them but not to keep them).

Greg Anderson

Cardinal Anderson (The Jesuit) will now reply: You Wrote: "...So this all leads to the burning question (pun intended): why did Jesus have to die at all..." Indeed the question comes round a full 360 degrees (or 2pi radians should one prefer it), did Yeshua have to die or was his cruel demise at the hands of the Romans and Sanhedrin simply an unfortunate happening on the wheel of fate? How could the same God who watched his Son Yeshua clap his little hands at Shavout and sing with the unbrideled joy so common to little children "plan" such a cruel death (as both Catholic and Reformed doctrine claim) for his Son in future?

SaberTruth

Why do I suddenly feel like Jean-Luc Picard when Q shows up? :-D If Original Sin were true then people would be sent to hell by default, not conscious rejection of the gospel. But if OS is not true, then conscious choice is clearly the deciding factor instead of an inherited, default fate. The penalty, then, is not due to inheritance but to lack of faith, as clearly stated in John 3:18-- "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." As Jesus told the Pharisees, "God is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Luke 20:38), and as He said in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the dead continue in conscious existence whether good or bad (Luke 16). Surely if there were spiritual death in the sense taught by Calvinism ("as dead as Lazarus"-- the other Lazarus), then the wicked dead would not suffer at all. So the idea of spiritual death can only be a figure of speech to indicate a separation, a broken relationship. This view holds in every context it occurs in scripture. So this all leads to the burning question (pun intended): why did Jesus have to die at all, since we aren’t born with OS (the way it’s taught does indeed make it sound like a disease)? All we have to do is look at Genesis 3, where people became mortal ("You shall die"), the ground (which Adam and the animals came from) was cursed, and the direct relationship with God was broken (dead to God, alive to sin). This is when "sin entered the world, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12), and was remedied by life "entering the world", and life through death (Rom. 5:18). So did Jesus come to give us physical immortality? Rom. 6:5 says our own death and resurrection is "like his", so since his was physical (I dare anyone to say it was spiritual!) then so is ours. Rom. 8:10 says it point blank: "But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness." Body--> death due to sin, life due to righteousness means exactly that: this is about the physical body. But as I wrote in my recent post The Reason for the Season, Jesus did much more than that: He redeemed us from the "deed holder" Satan and thereby made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, He freed the Jews from the old Law and enacted the Promise, and He created a new kingdom to be populated by those who are neither Jew nor Gentile. This is a far cry from the self-contradictory kneejerk theology of C & R. Defense rests--- cuz her typing fingers need a rest.

Greg Anderson

SaberTruth, I will now put on my full Cardinal’s cassock and sash (all in good jest), and resume my role as advocatus diaboli in a Vatican chamber: you wrote: "... It follows, then, that God isn’t treating all sin alike because sin isn’t even in the equation until after the person has entered either heaven or hell. That’s where rewards/punishments come in..." But suppose the doctrine of original sin is not true, and that there is no "penalty" to be exacted from the children Adam for what Adam did. What then? Suppose also that the only death spoken of in Genesis 2 was physical death, sown into the human genome along with disease and suffering. Where then is "spiritual death", a doctrine which is almost universally taught throughout Christendom?

SaberTruth

Greg, you can play anything you want, long as ya name it sumpin fancy. ;-) These devilish points you’ve advocated for our pondering are exactly the objections real devils (anti-Christians) have raised for a long time, and cited as the reason they reject the Christian God and usually all the rest as well. As you know, I conclude also that the C & R teachings about God are exactly what we’d expect from Satan, who exercises a degree of sovereignty in a moral vacuum. Unbelievers see through to the logical conclusions of these teachings, so why can’t Christians? They (the Christians) seem to have been asleep in Salvation 101-- all fifteen times they took the course. What is the Christian gospel, if not that God Himself paid the penalty for us, such that only a fool would decide to pay it themselves? And since it hinges on a conscious decision to accept or reject this Good News, it cannot allow for the damnation of those who were unable to grasp the question. In other words, C & R mis-frame the question: they think people are thrown into hell for their sins. But the Bible teaches that people are only sent there for one, and only one, thing: consciously and deliberately rejecting the remedy God provided. We know this by looking at the two judgments: the Bema (for believers) and the White Throne (for unbelievers). That is, before anyone’s sins are even considered, their eternal destination has already been determined. So it isn’t the unpaid sin or blunder or failure that puts someone in hell, but their refusal to let God pay for it. But that refusal is really only a "symptom"; the "cause" is an unwillingness to be reconciled to God. That being the case, it would be the greatest cruelty for God to force such people to spend eternity with Him. And if they whine about the suffering, they should consider the fact that God didn’t exactly demand a whole lot from them: to trust Him. It follows, then, that God isn’t treating all sin alike because sin isn’t even in the equation until after the person has entered either heaven or hell. That’s where rewards/punishments come in.

Greg Anderson

As always Paula, you’ve put out another thought provoking post. One that can certainly generate even more questions (e.g., the old "can of worms" scenario). Permit me to play advocatus diaboli (devil’s advocate): How is it that God (according to orthodox theology both Catholic & Reformed) consigns his creatures (humans) to hell even though some of them have done nothing to deserve death. True, they have all sinned and come short, but is falling short of God’s glory even in relatively small ways enough to qualify for an horrific and eternal punishment? What make this God (other than having absolute power) any different than Molech or Chemosh of the Canaanites? Or what makes an alledged standard of perfection that God must uphold any different than a Muslim honor killing for failing to meet it? The implication (noting that implication is not strictly equivalent to conclusion) is inescapable; all sin is the same in God’s eyes.

SaberTruth

Good thoughts, Sonnet. I have a similar popup/hover thing for the interlinear. But of course that only works in electronic media. I do like the color code idea though; that would work either electronically or in print. I think footnotes are best used to supply technical information that can’t be conveyed in the text without adding so much to it that it becomes too far removed from the actual scripture. For example, weights and measures, name meanings, or whether a word’s grammatical data doesn’t come across well in English.

Sonnet

That’s a tough one. Footnotes are good, but when I read The Source sometimes one footnote sends you searching back for another one. It definitely slows down the reading process. Sometimes I wonder if I should just ignore all of the footnotes when I’m trying to read through a book in one sitting to get the overall message. But then, I wonder what I’m missing if I don’t read the footnotes... maybe something important to understanding the text? So maybe I, as the reader, need to get better at skimming first before trying to read through the text more slowly with all of the footnotes. To keep repeating the same information in various footnotes throughout the NT would make the overall word count much larger, but it would simplify it for the reader. So there are pros and cons to each system. Now... if you could do something like the Kindle, which has a built in dictionary. All the reader has to do is move the cursor over a word and a dictionary definition is given. But if the reader assumes that they already understand that word, they wouldn’t bother to check the definition. But if you used a different font or color or something to let the reader know that more information could be gained by putting the cursor over the word, then maybe they would take the extra time to do so. While it would work great for electronic text, it wouldn’t work for printed material. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Lydia

I meant "explain it".

SaberTruth

In the text itself or in footnotes? And put "sin" in the text or the various words like "fail" in the text?

Sonnet

If the original language used different words to help the reader/hearer understand more clearly the message, then I’d say help the modern reader/hearer in the same way.

SaberTruth

How about the different words with a footnote that "this is a type of sin and was often used interchangeably with others" or something? Only problem then would be the many times that happens.

SaberTruth

Tanx! But by err on the side of caution, do you mean render all the words as "sin", or to explain it as in "sin because..."?

Lydia

Exellent post! I have long thought about this while studying. In fact, using the word sin dumbs down the meaning in many instances. And makes sin look normal for born again believers. I say err on the side of caution. Jesus raised the bar on sin. He said hate is murder and so on. So, if one is outwardly hating someone then they are committing murder. This is different than the law so if someone actually murders while claiming to be Born Again, what does that say to us? Us the example above with lust and adultery and you see why we have such a huge problem in Christendom with understanding sin as a whole. Lust is not deliberate but adultery, is.