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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

No Trespassing

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”?

Posted 2011-01-31 under Bible Text, sin, translation