What is sin?
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1John 3:4
According to the King James version (KJV) of the Bible, John wrote that breaking God’s law constitutes sin.
This particular translation presents a curiously redundant argument: committing sin is breaking the law because sin is lawbreaking. hmm…
Regardless of whether that is what John intended to say or not, most English dictionaries agree with the gist of the verse as presented in the KJV, defining sin to be a violation or trespass of a divine law.
In modern English versions of the Bible, the phrase sin is the transgression of the Law is often translated as sin is lawlessness. While this technically opens the definition for other interpretations, it also supports the general consensus on the meaning of sin, that of lawbreaking.
The word sin (synne) appears to have come to the English language from the Latin sons or sont, meaning guilty. This definition also appears to support the general meaning of sin, with one being guilty of having broken the law.
But there is a more popular understanding of the meaning of the word.
The English word sin corresponds to the Hebrew words חָטָא (khat-taw) and חַטָּאָה (khat-taw-ah) and the Greek words ἁμαρτία (hamartia) and ἁμαρτάνω (hamartano).
In modern Christian Theology, the Hebrew and Greek words are generally understood to refer to a missing of the mark or straying from the path.
…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God… Romans 3:23
According to this understanding, Paul’s statement to the Romans claims that everyone has missed the mark; everyone has strayed from the path.
Do not ignore the fact that to miss implies one aimed. To stray implies one was on the path to begin with.
If being found acceptable to God (and, as a result, ultimately obtaining eternal life) is the mark all are aiming for then, according to popular teaching, all have missed the mark because all have sinned.
If missing the mark is the definition of sin, and all have missed the mark due to sin, then all have sinned due to sin; all have missed the mark because all missed the mark. hmm…
Regardless, if we can ignore the confusion, missing the mark and/or straying from the path are quite distinct from breaking the law.
So which is it? Is sin missing the mark or is sin breaking the law? Is it both?
The Aramaic word for sin is חטיתא (KhteeyThaA). The English translation of that same verse from John’s letter in the Peshitta is a bit simpler:
Whoever commits sin commits evil, because all sin is evil. 1John 3:4
Context: In his letter, John explained that while there is sin that will not result in termination of one’s life (is not worthy of death), all sin is evil (see 1John 5:16-17).
All unrighteousness (every evil) is sin… 1John 5:17
That paints an entirely different picture from missing the mark, straying from the path or even breaking the law.
Everything that is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23
The first occurrence of the word sin in the Bible is found in God’s words to Cain after Cain discovered God was not pleased with his offering:
Behold, if you do right, I accept it, and if you will not do right, SIN lies in wait before the door; you are going to be converted to it and it will have authority over you”. Genesis 4:7
Cain proceeded to murder his brother, Abel.
To gain further insight into “why” this event is so significant, we need to step back one generation, to Cain’s parents Adam and Eve…
Origin of man
And elohim said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So elohim created man in his own image, in the image of elohim created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:26-27
In the nearly 4500 occurrences of the word God found throughout English translations of the Old Testament, the majority are translated from the Hebrew word elohim, a word which is plural for eloah, or El. God’s angels are also referred to as elohim and, in several places, even men are referred to as elohim… by God Himself. More on this, later.
Christian theology generally (there are many variations on this…) subscribes to the notion that man was created by God in an immortal state consisting of spirit, soul and body. The first man, adam, is said to have been god-like (made in the likeness of God), making him both eternal and perfect, without sin (That is, up until he, this perfect man, somehow sinned). Adam’s alleged choice to commit this transgression apparently caused him to not merely fall from his state of sinless perfection, but also to die spiritually (more on this, later). Upon partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, adam’s eternal spirit (created in the image of God) died (which, if true, would have heavy ramifications for the eternal Spirit that created him), resulting in the loss of his (supposed) immortality. His new and alleged self-imposed condition of spiritual death was then passed on to all his progeny. These offspring would then be consisting of a living soul and body, and be carrying a stillborn spirit, potentially in need of resuscitation.
The notion continues with God subsequently going to work immediately on a fix, a remedy, a plan of salvation. Unfortunately, it would take approximately 4000 years to implement such a plan, while billions of people lived out their lives apparently carrying stillborn spirits inside of them. The act that inspired the fix had apparently caught God by surprise and ruined all of God’s plans; plans for mankind to live naked in the Garden forever, feasting on nuts and seeds. God’s fix would require Him to eventually send His own Son to die as a payment for the sins that sinless mankind had just committed. Then, just as the first sinless man chose to sin and lose his immortality, so sinful men could now choose to have their immortality restored. Of his own volition, man could take advantage of this fix through various means (requirements vary, depending on which faction of Christianity is presented).
According to this popular notion, prior to implementing the fix (and approximately 2500 years after adam’s spirit allegedly died), God introduced a stop-gap measure (via Moses in 1446 BC) called “The Law.” This measure was only introduced to a tiny subset of the sinful population of the Earth, who were never required to spread the good news to anyone outside of the group. This one-off, special arrangement would result in a religion all it’s own whose adherents would be utterly independent of the fix that would one day be implemented. Members of that group would not require or even want the fix (Except for those who did).
The fix would somehow revive men’s inherited dead spirits in order to grant them a pleasant afterlife. For those who did not take advantage of the fix, life after death would not be so pleasant, ranging from unavailable altogether to everlasting torment, depending on who is telling the story.
This ludicrous story is simply not true.
The TRUTH can be laid hold of by letting the Scriptures tell us what occurred. To begin with, man had been created to resemble (look like) his creator:
And elohim said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… Genesis 1:26
Man was created to look like elohim. This is quite a spectacular thing, and is not said of any of the other creatures.
Rather than take what is written at face value, the fact that man looks like God, proponents of the “spiritual” man theory claim that “in our image” somehow additionally infers:
- Since God is spirit
- And God made man in His own image, after His likeness
- Therefore, man must have a spirit – just like God
If this were the case, then the reverse would also be true: God would have a soul and body and be made from the dust of the Earth – just like man who was made “in (God’s) image.”
This whole course of reasoning utterly falls apart when we consider the so-called attributes of God; all that God is and man isn’t, which we will visit again later in more detail, but it is not necessary to go that far. If one has ears to hear:
And YHWH elohim formed adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and adam became a living soul. Genesis 2:7
The English word adam is transliterated from the Hebrew word אָדָם (aw-dawm’). It literally translates as “ruddy, to show blood (in the face), that is, flush or turn rosy.” Effectually, adam refers to man/mankind, and is used in multiple places that clearly reference more than just the first man.
And adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Genesis 2:23
Another Hebrew word for mankind is אֱנוֹשׁ (en-oshe’), a plural word often translated as men. In Hebrew, one man is an אִישׁ (eesh). Adam referred to his helpmate, who had been created from his own body, as an אִשָּׁה (ish-shaw’), a woman.
- English: man / wo’-man
- Hebrew: eesh / ish-shaw’
Later, adam called her name חַוָּה (khav-vaw’), transliterated into English as Eve. The word means lifegiver – the mother of all.
NOTE: We are never supplied with a proper name for that first man; he is simply known to us as mankind or adam.
Most importantly, that first man became a living soul. In Hebrew the word for soul is נֶפֶשׁ (neh’-fesh), and refers to a breathing creature. Adam was a living soul having a body made directly from the ground, the dust of the Earth.
And YHWH elohim formed from the Earth every animal of the wilderness, and every bird of Heaven, and he brought them to adam to see what he called them, and everything that adam called them, each living soul, that is its name. Genesis 2:19
All the animals were also living souls (neh’-fesh) having bodies; they were all breathing creatures.
NOTE: The first two chapters of Genesis record God speaking 107 words to adam (counted using the KJV, other English translations may vary), with no recorded response from the man. We will return to this point, later.
In the first two chapters of Genesis we discover that God created man to look like Him. Man was a soul inhabiting a body; no more, no less. There is absolutely no mention of adam being a spirit, having a spirit or being a spiritual man. It is clearly stated that, when he was created, he became a living soul.
The spirit of man?
At first glance, most English translations of the Scriptures are seemingly not without support of the idea of adam (mankind) having a spirit, though a little scrutiny will shed significant light on this. A commonly quoted verse in support of the theory is:
The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly. Proverbs 20:27 (KJV)
In this passage the phrase the spirit of man can be literally translated from Hebrew into English as the breath of adam. The Hebrew word translated as spirit in this verse, נְשָׁמָה (nesh-aw-maw’), is translated as breath is most every other occurrence.
The Peshitta presents this phrase a bit differently, and provides more insight:
“The soul of the children of men is the lamp of the LORD…”
But there are other verses in which we find the English phrase spirit of man, verses that use a different Hebrew word for spirit. Here are two:
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Ecclesiastes 3:21
The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. Zechariah 12:1
In both of these passages the Hebrew word רוּחַ (roo’-akh) is translated into English as spirit. This is the same word that is used in Genesis 1:2, where we read, “…And the Spirit (roo’-akh) of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
Strong’s Concordance offers the following information for the Hebrew word:
From H7306; wind; by resemblance breath, that is, a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; figuratively life, anger, unsubstantiality; by extension a region of the sky; by resemblance spirit, but only of a rational being (including its expression and functions): – air, anger, blast, breath, X cool, courage, mind, X quarter, X side, spirit ([-ual]), tempest, X vain, ([whirl-]) wind (-y).
- Question: From these verses can we not simply conclude that man has a spirit, just like his creator?
- Answer: No. Read on…
The Hebrew word רוּחַ (roo’-akh) is also used in Genesis 2:7 where it is translated into English as breath when God breathes into adam the breath (roo’-akh) of life. Of the 378 occurrences of this word רוּחַ (roo’-akh) in the KJV, more than 30 times it is translated breath.
In Genesis 8:1, we read that when God brought the flood to an end he made a wind (roo’-akh) to pass over the Earth. Of the 378 occurrences of this word רוּחַ (roo’-akh) in the KJV, more than 100 times it is translated wind.
Wherever the Hebrew word רוּחַ (roo’-akh) appears throughout the Scriptures, the Aramaic word רוחא (Ruu-KhaA) is used. Both words can be (and are) translated into English as breath, wind or spirit – depending upon context / interpretation. While the meanings may appear to be ambiguous at times, breath, wind and spirit are not synonymous.
The New Testament was not penned in Hebrew, so we will not find the Hebrew word רוּחַ (roo’-akh). But we can read both Old and New testament texts translated from Aramaic…
God is Spirit … John 4:24
And who is the man who knows what is in a man except only the spirit of the man that is in him? So also a man does not know what is in God; only The Spirit of God knows. 1Corinthians 2:11
In the Peshitta we find the word רוחא (Ruu-KhaA) for spirit in both passages, above.
When Peter walked on the water, the wind (Ruu-KhaA) was creating quite a chop, such that he grew fearful and began to sink… see Matthew 14:22-33
Another time Jesus rebuked the wind (Ruu-KhaA) and there was a great calm… see Mark 4:35-41
God had breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath (Ruu-KhaA) of life… See Genesis 2:7
In the various Greek manuscripts we typically find the word πνεῦμα (pneuma, pnyoo’-mah) used for the Hebrew רוּחַ (roo’-akh) or Aramaic רוחא (Ruu-KhaA). While this Greek word typically translates into English as spirit, it also can be translated as both breath and wind. Thus we find that whether we are reading Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek texts of the Scriptures, the Hebrew word רוּחַ (roo’-akh), the Aramaic word רוחא (Ruu-KhaA), and the Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma) all may be translated into English as breath, wind and/or spirit, depending upon context.
1Corinthians 2:11 may just as easily read, “…who knows a person’s thoughts except the mind of that person…”
What we can conclude is that an issue of interpretation exists. It is not as simple as translating the word for the color red from one language to another. Look at two translations of this popular passage:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. John 3:8 (KJV)
The Spirit breathes where he will, and you hear his voice, but you do not know from where he comes and where he goes; thus is everyone who is born from The Spirit. John 3:8 (FCAB)
Spirit, breath, wind… all from the same word.
We can readily see that, regardless of which original language we begin with, the Scriptures inform us that man has breath; he is a living being as are all the other creatures. This is what we refer to as soul life.
How did the theory come about that man, at his birth, comes pre-packaged with a spirit, albeit a dead one? How do we get to the TRUTH regarding body, soul and spirit? And what does any of this have to do with sin and righteousness?
In Genesis 3 we read that the serpent deceived Eve, who then gave to her husband to eat. (For details on an erroneous Christian teaching regarding the serpent, see my article on Lucifer .)
Elements of the account of the fall of man are thus:
- God commanded adam, “…from the tree of knowledge of good and of evil you shall not eat from it, because in the day that you will eat from it, you will die…”
- God formed the rib that he took from adam into a Woman and brought her to adam.
- They were both naked, adam and his wife, and they were not ashamed
- The Serpent was craftier than every animal and said to the Woman, “Has God truly said that you will not eat from all the trees of Paradise?”
- The woman said to the Serpent, “…from the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of Paradise God said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you shall die.'”
- The Serpent said, “You shall not really die: Because God knew that in the day that you eat from it, your eyes are opened and you are like God, knowing good and evil.”
- When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
- Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
- God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
- Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
- God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The Serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
- God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
- God said to the woman, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
- God said to adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
- Adam called the name of his wife Khawa (Eve), because she was the mother of all living.
- God made for adam and for his wife garments of skins (pelts, leather) and clothed them.
- God said, “Behold, Adam has become as one of us, to know good and evil; now, lest he reach his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and will live to eternity…”
- God sent him out from Paradise of Eden to cultivate the Earth, the place from which he was taken.
- God made revolve, from the East of Paradise of Eden, Cherubim and the point of a sword, that turns to keep the way of the tree of Life.
Notably, adam was not created having innate knowledge of good and evil. For that, he would need to rely upon God.
Further, God’s commandment to adam included both eating and not eating:
YHWH elohim commanded adam, “From all of the trees that are in Paradise YOU SHALL EAT, and from the tree of knowledge of good and of evil YOU SHALL NOT EAT from it, because in the day that you will eat from it, you will die. Genesis 2:16-17
God commanded adam to partake of eternal life, something adam obviously refused.
Adam’s fate was back to dust, not life eternal!
…because dust you are and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19
God commanded adam NOT to partake of the knowledge of good and evil, which is exactly what he did partake of. From now on man could decide for himself what he thought to be good and evil, what he thought to be right and wrong, what he thought to be true and false.
Instead of submitting to God in all things, including God’s last word on what is good and what is evil, and possessing eternal life, adam opted out of eternal life in order to feel that empowering sense of control whereby every man, woman and child can now argue with one another over their own opinions regarding any and everything. Every disagreement between husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor, village, city, state and nation stems from this independent knowledge of good and evil. And this is apparent in all mankind.
Adam and his wife ate of the fruit of the tree and they did not die, just as the serpent had told Eve.
Two attempts are made to explain the apparent discrepancy between what God had said, “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” and the fact that they did not die:
- Question: Did God lie?
- Answer: Of course not.
God is not a man that He would lie… Numbers 23:19
- A day with the LORD is as a thousand years. Adam died when he was 930. Therefore, he died within the day he ate of it.
- Some aspect of Adam died; namely, his spirit.
Consider the following:
…the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise… Genesis 3:6
…all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father… 1John 2:16
Mapping the tree to the world:
- was good for food – the desires (lust) of the flesh
- was a delight to the eyes – the desires (lust) of the eyes
- was to be desired to make one wise – (boastful) pride of life
…they worshiped the Dragon that gives authority to The Beast, and they worshiped The Beast… all the inhabitants of The Earth will worship it, those who are not written in The Book of Life of The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:4,8
- Question: When was the Lamb of God slain?
- Answer: Before the foundation of the world.
- Question: Is the creation of the Earth distinct from the foundation of the world?
- Answer: Yes. See above.
Now try this:
…in the day that you (Adam) will eat from it, you (the Lamb of God) will die. Genesis 2:17
The script was written long before its debut upon the world’s stage.
…in due time (at the right, appointed time) Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6
- Question: Did God intend for His Son to die prior to Adam’s disobedience?
- Answer: Yes!
Thus also it is written: ‘Adam the first man was a living soul; the last Adam, The Life Giver Spirit’. 1Corinthians 15:45
Contrasting Jesus the Messiah with Adam (the first man): Adam was a soul in a body. The Messiah was a Spirit (also having a soul, and inhabiting a body). Two distinct versions of man: one being Earthy, the other being Heavenly.
For all have sinned…
Penned in BC, quoted in AD. All means all. Have sinned is a past participle. It is not written that all will sin, someday, after they are born, after they reach a certain age or breach a certain threshold of knowledge.
Sin is that which a sinner is enslaved by. Sins (plural) are that which a sinner produces, be it good or bad, right or wrong.
For the righteous, the produce is either the works of the flesh or the fruits of the spirit.