Sin is a riddle, a mystery, a reality that eludes definition and comprehension. Perhaps we most often think of sin as wrongdoing or transgression of God's law. Sin includes a failure to do what is right. But sin also offends people; it is violence and lovelessness toward other people, and ultimately, rebellion against God. Further, the Bible teaches that sin involves a condition in which the heart is corrupted and inclined toward evil. The concept of sin is complex, and the terminology large and varied so that it may be best to look at the reality of sin in the Pentateuch first, then reflect theologically.
The History of Sin. In the biblical world sin is, from its first appearance, tragic and mysterious. It is tragic because it represents a fall from the high original status of humankind. Created in God's image, Adam and Eve are good but immature, fine but breakable, like glass dishes. They are without flaw, yet capable of marring themselves. Satan uses a serpent to tempt Eve and Adam, first to question God, then to rebel against him. First, Satan introduces doubts about God's authority and goodness. "Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" ( Gen 3:1 ). He invites Eve to consider how the fruit of the tree of knowledge is good for food and for knowledge. We see the tendency of sin to begin with a subtle appeal to something attractive and good in itself, to an act that is somehow plausible and directed toward some good end.
Throughout the Bible almost every sin reaches for things with some intrinsic value, such as security, knowledge, peace, pleasure, or a good name. But behind the appeal to something good, sin ultimately involves a raw confrontation between obedience and rebellion. Will Adam and Eve heed their impressions or God's instructions? Will they listen to a creature or the Creator? Will they serve God or themselves? Who will judge what is right, God or humans? Who will see to the results? Ultimately, by taking the position of arbiter between the conflicting counsel of God and the serpent, Eve and Adam have already elevated themselves over God and rebelled against him.
Here too the first sins disclose the essence of later sins. Sin involves the refusal of humankind to accept its God-given position between the Creator and lower creation. It flows from decisions to reject God's way, and to steal, curse, and lie simply because that seems more attractive or reasonable. Here we approach the mystery of sin. Why would the first couple, sinless and without inclination toward sin, choose to rebel? Why would any creature presume to know more or know better than its creator?
Adam and Eve become sinners by a historical act. The principal effects of sin are alienation from God, from others, from oneself, and from creation. They emerge almost at once. Alienation from God lead Adam and Eve to fear and flee from him. Alienation from each other and themselves shows in their shame (awareness of nakedness) and blame shifting. Adam Acts out all three alienations at once when, in response to God's questions, he excuses himself by blaming both Eve and God for his sin: "The woman you put here with meshe gave me some fruit" ( 3:12 ). The sentence God pronounces upon sin includes grace ( 3:15 ) and suggests that he retains sovereign control over his creation even in its rebellion, but it also establishes our alienation from nature in the curse upon childbearing, work, and creation itself ( 3:14-19 ). After the curse, God graciously clothes the first couple, but he also expels them from the garden ( 3:21-24 ). He graciously permits them to reproduce, but death enters human experience a short time later ( Genesis 4:1 Genesis 4:8 ; 5:5-31 ). These events prove the vanity and futility of sin. Adam and Eve seek new freedoms and dignity, but sin robs them of what they have; seeking advantage, they experience great losses.
Genesis and Romans teach that Adam and Eve did not sin for themselves alone, but, from their privileged position as the first, originally sinless couple, act as representatives for the human race. Since then sin, sinfulness, and the consequences of sin have marred all. Every child of Adam enters a race marked by sin, condemnation, and death ( Rom 5:12-21 ). These traits become theirs both by heritage and, as they grow into accountability, by personal choice, as Cain's slaughter of Abel quickly shows.
In Cain's sin we have an early hint of the virulence and intractability of sin. Whereas Satan prompted Adam and Eve to sin, God himself cannot talk Cain out of it ( Gen 3:1-5 ; 4:6 ). While sin was external to Adam and Eve, it appears to spring up spontaneously from within Cain; it is a wild force in him, which he ought to master lest it devour him ( 4:7 ). Sin is also becoming more aggravated: it is premeditated, it begins in the setting of worship, and it directly harms a brother, who deserves love. After his sin, far from manifesting guilt or remorse, Cain confesses nothing, refuses to repent, and chides God for the harshness of his punishments ( 4:5-14 ). Cain's sin and impenitence foreshadow much of the future course of sin both within and without the Bible.
Genesis 4-11 traces the development of sin. It becomes proud and deliberate ( 4:23-24 ), yet the line of Cain, the line of sinners, remains human and fulfills the mandate to fill and subdue the earth. Indeed, perhaps Cain's line does better in the cultural arena, although those who make bronze and iron tools also fashion weapons. Eventually, sin so pervades the world that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart is only evil all the time ( Gen 6:5 ; 8:21 ). Consequently, the Lord purges the earth of evil through the flood. When sin threatens to reassert itself in both direct disobedience and idolatry, God reveals his new intention to restrain sin by confusing human language at Babel: better that humanity be divided than that it stand together in rebellion against God.
Genesis 12-50 illustrates that sin plagues even the people of God, as members of the covenant family manipulate, betray, lie to, and deceive one another. The history Moses recounts also shows that punishment naturally follows, or is built into iniquity. Scheming Rebekah never sees her favorite son again; Jacob tastes the bitterness of deceit through Laban; Jacob's sons suffer for their sin against Joseph. As Proverbs 5:22 says, "The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast."
Exodus reveals that sin not only brings suffering and punishment, but also violates the law of the Lord, Israel's holy redeemer and king. At Sinai Israel learned that sin is transgression of God's law; it is behavior that trespasses onto forbidden territory ( Rom 4:15 ). The law also labels sin and unmasks it. One can sin without knowing it, but the law makes such ignorance less common. The Mosaic law emphasizes the external character of sin, but the laws that command Israel to love God and forbid it to worship idols or covet show that sin is internal too. Paradoxically, the law sometimes prompts sin, Paul says ( Rom 7:7-13 ). Upon seeing that something is forbidden, desire to do it rises up. This perverse reaction reminds us that the root of sin is sinfulness and rebellion against God ( Rom 7:7-25 ).
The sacrifices and rituals for cleansing listed in the Pentateuch remind us of the gravity of sin. Transgressions are more than mistakes. The Bible never dismisses a sin simply because it was done by someone young or ignorant, or because it was done some time ago. Sin pollutes the sinner, and the law requires that the pollution be removed. One chief motive of the penal code is to remove evil from the land ( Deut 13:5 , quoted in 1 Cor 5:13 ). Sin also offends God, and the law requires atonement through sacrifices, in many of which a victim gives its life blood for an atonement.
The Biblical Terminology of Sin. The vast terminology, within its biblical contexts, suggests that sin has three aspects: disobedience to or breach of law, violation of relationships with people, and rebellion against God, which is the most basic concept. Risking oversimplification, among the most common Hebrew terms, hattat [a'f'j] means a missing of a standard, mark, or goal; pesa [q;f'P] means the breach of a relationship or rebellion; awon [!A' means perverseness; segagah [hgg.v] signifies error or mistake; resa [hgg.v] means godlessness, injustice, and wickedness; and amal [l'm' , when it refers to sin, means mischief or oppression. The most common Greek term is hamartia [aJmartiva], a word often personified in the New Testament, and signifying offenses against laws, people, or God. Paraptoma [paravptwma] is another general term for offenses or lapses. Adikia [ajdikiva] is a more narrow and legal word, describing unrighteousness and unjust deeds. Parabasis [paravbasi"] signifies trespass or transgression of law; asebeia [ajsevbeia] means godlessness or impiety; and anomia [ajnomiva] means lawlessness. The Bible typically describes sin negatively. It is lawless ness, dis obedience, im piety, un belief, dis trust, darkness as opposed to light, a falling away as opposed to standing firm, weakness not strength. It is un righteousness, faithless ness.
The Biblical Theology of Sin. The historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament illustrate the character of sin under these terms. From Judges to Kings, we see that Israel forsook the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and established a covenant with them. They followed and worshiped the gods of the nations around them ( Judges 2:10-13 ). Sometimes they served the Baals with singleness of purpose, filling Jerusalem with idols, and lawlessness reigned (Ahab, Ahaz, and Manasseh). The sin of human sacrifice followed in the reigns of such kings ( 2 Kings 21:6 ). The existence of human sacrifice underscores the depth and gravity of sin. People can become so perverted, so self-deceived, that they perform the most unnatural and heartless crimes, thinking them to be worship. Isaiah rightly says they "call evil good and good evil" ( 5:20 ). Later the Pharisees, utterly sincere, yet hypocritical because self-deceived, would revive this sin by killing not their children, but their maker, and calling it an act of service to God.
Many kings compounded their sin by rejecting and sometimes persecuting the prophets who pressed God's covenantal claims. Ahaz even spurned God's free offer of deliverance from invasion; he thought he had arranged his own deliverance through an alliance with Assyria and its gods. Not all kings were so crass; many tried to serve the Lord as they chose, in forbidden manners (Jeroboam I, Jehu, and other northern kings). Others attempted to serve God and the Baals at once (Solomon, the final kings of Judah, and many northern kings). The kings in question may have called it diplomacy; the prophets called it adultery.
Other prophets decried the social character of sin: "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed" ( Amos 2:6-7 ). If sin is lack of love for God, it is also hate or indifference toward fellow humans.
The history of Israel illustrates how impenitence compounds sin. Saul magnified his sins by repenting superficially at best ( 1 Sam 13:11-12 ; 15:13-21 ; 24:16-21 ). David, by contrast, repented of his sin with Bathsheba, without excuses or reservations ( 2 Sam 12:13 ). Sadly, true repentance was the exception in Israel's history. God prompted Israel to repent by sending adversityempty stomachs, drought, plague, warfare, and other curses for disobediencebut Israel would not turn back. Later, the Lord wooed Israel with food, clothing, oil, and new wine; he lavished silver and gold on her, but she gave "her lovers" the credit. Because she did not acknowledge that he was the giver, he swore he would remove his gifts ( Hosea 2:2-13 ).
Jesus continued the prophets' work of deepening the concept of sin in two ways. First, he said God requires more than obedience to external norms. People sin by hating, despising, and lusting even if they never act on their desires. People sin if they do the right things for the wrong reasons. Obedience that proceeds from fear of getting caught, or lack of opportunity to act on wicked desires lacks righteousness ( Matt 5:17-48 ). Second, Jesus' harsh denunciations of sin show that sin cannot be overlooked. It must be confronted, unpleasant as that may be ( Matt 18:15-20 ; Luke 17:3-4 ). Otherwise, the sinner dies in his sins ( John 8:24 ; cf. James 5:19-20 ).
Jesus also explained that sin arises from the heart. Bad trees bear bad fruit, blasphemous words spring from hearts filled with evil, and wicked men demand signs when they have already seen enough to warrant faith ( Matt 7:17-20 ; 12:33-39 ). Therefore, evildoing is not simply a matter of choice, rather, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin" ( John 8:34 ).
But the Christ came not just to explain but to forgive or remove sin. His name is Jesus because he will deliver his people from their sins ( Matt 1:21 ; Luke 1:77 ). Thus he was a friend of sinners ( Matt 9:9-13 ; Luke 15:1-2 ), bestowed forgiveness of sins, and freed those suffering from its consequences ( Mark 2:1-12 ; Luke 7:36-50 ). Jesus earned the right to his name and the right to grant forgiveness by shedding his blood on the cross for the remission of sins. The crucifixion is at once the apex of sin and the cure of sin ( Acts 2:23-24 ). That the Son of God had to bear the cross to accomplish redemption shows the gravity of sin. That he rose from the dead demonstrates that sin is defeated. After his resurrection, Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the victory and forgiveness of sins through his name ( Luke 24:47 ; John 20:23 ).
Paul's theology of sin principally appears in Romans 1-8. God is angry because of sins humans commit against him and one another ( 1:18-32 ). Unbelief is the root of sin. The failure to glorify or thank God leads to idolatry, foolishness, and degradation ( 1:21-25 ). Sometimes he permits sins to develop unimpeded, until every kind of wickedness fills the human breast ( 1:26-32 ). Paul's imaginary reader objects to this indictment in several ways (2:1-3:8). Paul replies that while not everyone sins so crudely, everyone violates standards they consider just ( 2:1-3 ). If someone professes to belong to the covenant, have knowledge, and so enjoy special standing with God, Paul asks if they live up to the knowledge they have of God's law ( 2:17-29 ). Everyone is a sinner, he concludes, and stands silent, guilty, and accountable before God ( 3:10-21 ). Paul's sin lists cover the gamut of transgressions, from murder to gossip. Despite his use of the term "flesh" ("sinful nature" in some translations), relatively few sins on the lists are sensual; most concern the mind or the tongue ( Rom 1:28-32 ; Gal 5:19-21 ). Like Jesus, Paul affirms that sin is an internal power, not just an act. It enslaves any whom Christ has not liberated and leads to their death ( 6:5-23 ), so that the unbeliever is incapable of pleasing God ( 8:5-8 ). Sin continues to grip even the redeemed ( 7:14-25 ). But principal deliverance from sin comes through justification by faith in Jesus, so there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (3:21-4:25; 8:1-4 ). The Spirit renews believers and empowers them to work out that deliverance ( 8:9-27 ).
Much of the rest of the New Testament restates themes from the Gospels and Paul. James remarks that sin begins with evil desires ( 1:14 ; 4:1-4 ) and leads to death when fully grown ( 1:15 ). This and other biblical remarks suggest that iniquity gains some of its power through repetition. When an individual commits a sin, it can become, through repetition, a habit, a vice, and a character trait. When one person imitates the sins of another, wickedness can be institutionalized. Whole governments can become corrupt; whole industries can be based on deception or abuse of others. Societies can wrap themselves in a fabric of deceit. Thus one sinner encourages another and the wrong kind of friendship with the world makes one an enemy of God ( James 4:4-6 ).
The Book of Revelation also reminds us that sin involves more than individual people and Acts. In some places Satan reigns ( 2:13 ). The dragon, in his futile desire to devour the church, prompts the wicked to persecute it ( 12:1-17 ). Both government and religious leaders serve him in his wars against the saints (12:17-13:17). Revelation also depicts the end of sin. A day comes when God will condemn sin ( 20:11-15 ). Evildoers will be driven from his presence; the devil, his allies, death, and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire ( 20:10-15 ). Then the new heavens and new earth, free of sin forever, will descend (chaps. 21-22).
What, then, is the essence of sin? Sin has three chief aspects: breach of law, violation of relationships with people and things protected by the law, and rebellion against God. The essence of sin, therefore, is not a substance but a relationship of opposition. Sin opposes God's law and his created beings. Sin hates rather than loves, it doubts or contradicts rather than trusts and affirms, it harms and abuses rather than helps and respects.
But sin is also a condition. The Bible teaches that there are lies and liars, sins and sinners. People can be "filled" (meaning "controlled") by hypocrisy and lawlessness ( Matt 23:28 ). God "gives some over to sin, " allowing them to wallow in every kind of wickedness ( Rom 1:18-32 ). Paul, speaking of the time before their conversion, told the Ephesians, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live" ( 2:1-2 ).
This said, we have hardly defined sin, and with good reason. Sin is elusive. Sin has no substance, no independent existence. It does not even exist in the sense that love or justice do. It exists only as a parasite of the good or good things. Sin creates nothing; it abuses, perverts, spoils, and destroys the good things God has made. It has no program, no thesis; it only has an antithesis, an opposition. Sometimes wickedness is as senseless as a child who pulls the hair or punches the stomach of another, then honestly confesses, "I don't know why I did that." In some ways sin is an absence rather than a presence: it fails to listen, walks past the needy, and subsists in alienation rather than relation.
Negative as sin is, it hides itself under the appearance of what is good. At the first temptation, sin operated under the guise of claiming good things such as food and knowledge. Even the goal of being like God is good in some ways; after all, God made the first couple in his image. Similarly, when Satan tempted Jesus, the second Adam, he offered things good in themselves: food, knowledge, and rule over the kingdoms of the earth. Sin and temptation continue to appeal to things good and desirable in themselves. Fornication promises bodily pleasure, boasting seeks honor, by breaking promises or vows people hope for release from hardship. Someone can make a persuasive defense for almost every offense.
Yet ultimately, sin is most unreasonable. Why would Adam and Eve, well-cared-for and without propensity toward sin, rebel against God? Why would a creature want to rebel against the Creator? The prophets find Israel's rebellion absurd; even animals know better. "The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" ( Isa 1:3 ).
Although negative and irrational, sin is also a power. It crouches at Cain's door, ready to devour him ( Gen 4:7 ). It compels Paul to do the evil he does not wish ( Rom 7:14-20 ). It moves and is moved by demonic and societal forces. It enters the heart, so that wickedness wells up spontaneously from within ( Matt 15:17-19 ). Its stronghold is the all but instinctive tendency to put one's own interests and desires first. From the selfish heart comes rebellion, godlessness, cursing, lies, slander, envy, greed, sensuality, and pride ( Matt 12:34-37 ; Rom 1:18-32 ).
Three factors compound the tragedy of sin. First, it pervades the whole person; no sphere escapes, for the very heart of the sinner is corrupt ( Psalm 51:5 ; Jer 17:9 ; Rom 8:7 ). Second, evil resides in the heart of the crown of God's creation, the bearer of God's image, the one appointed to rule the world for God. The remarkable capacities of humans to think, plan, persuade, and train others enables wickedness to become clever and strong. Third, sin is proud; hence it resists God and his salvation and offers a counterfeit salvation instead ( 2 Thess 2:2-4 ).
Despite all its dismal qualities, sin makes one contribution. Because God chose to redeem his people from it, sin has been the stimulus for God's demonstration of his amazing patience, grace, and love ( Rom 5:6-8 ; Gal 2:17-20 ; 1 Tim 1:15-17 ). So the study of sin need not merely grieve the Christian. From a postresurrection perspective, sin indirectly gives opportunity to praise the creating and redeeming Lord for his gracious deliverance ( Rom 11:33-36 ).
Bibliography. G. C. Berkouwer, Sin; G. W. Bromiley, ISBE, 4:518-25; J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans; D. Kidner, Genesis; A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit.
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is "any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God" ( 1 John 3:4 ; Romans 4:15 ), in the inward state and habit of the soul, as well as in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission ( Romans 6:12-17 ; 7:5-24 ). It is "not a mere violation of the law of our constitution, nor of the system of things, but an offence against a personal lawgiver and moral governor who vindicates his law with penalties. The soul that sins is always conscious that his sin is (1) intrinsically vile and polluting, and (2) that it justly deserves punishment, and calls down the righteous wrath of God. Hence sin carries with it two inalienable characters, (1) ill-desert, guilt (reatus); and (2) pollution (macula).", Hodge's Outlines.
The moral character of a man's actions is determined by the moral state of his heart. The disposition to sin, or the habit of the soul that leads to the sinful act, is itself also sin ( Romans 6:12-17 ; Galatians 5:17 ; James 1:14 James 1:15 ).
The origin of sin is a mystery, and must for ever remain such to us. It is plain that for some reason God has permitted sin to enter this world, and that is all we know. His permitting it, however, in no way makes God the author of sin.
Adam's sin ( Genesis 3:1-6 ) consisted in his yielding to the assaults of temptation and eating the forbidden fruit. It involved in it, (1) the sin of unbelief, virtually making God a liar; and (2) the guilt of disobedience to a positive command. By this sin he became an apostate from God, a rebel in arms against his Creator. He lost the favour of God and communion with him; his whole nature became depraved, and he incurred the penalty involved in the covenant of works.
Original sin. "Our first parents being the root of all mankind, the guilt of their sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature were conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation." Adam was constituted by God the federal head and representative of all his posterity, as he was also their natural head, and therefore when he fell they fell with him ( Romans 5:12-21 ; 1 Corinthians 15:22-45 ). His probation was their probation, and his fall their fall. Because of Adam's first sin all his posterity came into the world in a state of sin and condemnation, i.e., (1) a state of moral corruption, and (2) of guilt, as having judicially imputed to them the guilt of Adam's first sin.
"Original sin" is frequently and properly used to denote only the moral corruption of their whole nature inherited by all men from Adam. This inherited moral corruption consists in, (1) the loss of original righteousness; and (2) the presence of a constant proneness to evil, which is the root and origin of all actual sin. It is called "sin" ( Romans 6:12 Romans 6:14 Romans 6:17 ; 7:5-17 ), the "flesh" ( Galatians 5:17 Galatians 5:24 ), "lust" ( James 1:14 James 1:15 ), the "body of sin" ( Romans 6:6 ), "ignorance," "blindness of heart," "alienation from the life of God" ( Ephesians 4:18 Ephesians 4:19 ). It influences and depraves the whole man, and its tendency is still downward to deeper and deeper corruption, there remaining no recuperative element in the soul. It is a total depravity, and it is also universally inherited by all the natural descendants of Adam ( Romans 3:10-23 ; 5:12-21 ; 8:7 ). Pelagians deny original sin, and regard man as by nature morally and spiritually well; semi-Pelagians regard him as morally sick; Augustinians, or, as they are also called, Calvinists, regard man as described above, spiritually dead ( Ephesians 2:1 ; 1 John 3:14 ).
The doctrine of original sin is proved,
Various kinds of sin are mentioned,
Sin, a city in Egypt, called by the Greeks Pelusium, which means, as does also the Hebrew name, "clayey" or "muddy," so called from the abundance of clay found there. It is called by Ezekel ( Ezekiel 30:15 ) "the strength of Egypt, "thus denoting its importance as a fortified city. It has been identified with the modern Tineh, "a miry place," where its ruins are to be found. Of its boasted magnificence only four red granite columns remain, and some few fragments of others.
a city of Egypt, mentioned only by Ezekiel. ( Ezekiel 30:15 Ezekiel 30:16 ) The name is Hebrew, or at least Semitic, perhaps signifying clay . It is identified in the Vulgate with Pelusium, "the clayey or muddy" town. Its antiquity may perhaps be inferred from the mention of "the wilderness of Sin" in the journeys of the Israelites. ( Exodus 16:1 ; Numbers 33:11 ) Ezekiel speaks of Sin as "Sin the strongholds of Egypt." ( Ezekiel 30:15 ) This place was held by Egypt from that time until the period of the Romans. Herodotus relates that Sennacherib advanced against Pelusium, and that near Pelusium Cambyses defeated Psammenitus. In like manner the decisive battle in which Ochus defeated the last native king, Nectanebes, was fought near this city.
(chaTTa'th, "a missing," `awon, "perversity]" pesha`, "transgression," ra`, "evil," etc.; hamartano, "miss the mark," parabasis, "transgression" with a suggestion of violence, adikia, "injustice," "unrighteousness"):
1. Sin as Disobedience
2. Affects the Inner Life
3. Involves All Men
4. The Story of the Fall
5. The Freedom of Man
6. A Transgression against Light
7. Inwardness of the Moral Law
8. Sin a Positive Force
12. Life in Christ
1. Sin as Disobedience:
A fairly exact definition of sin based on Biblical data would be that sin is the transgression of the law of God (1John 3:4). Ordinarily, sin is defined simply as "the transgression of the law," but the idea of God is so completely the essential conception of the entire Biblical revelation that we can best define sin as disobedience to the law of God. It will be seen that primarily sin is an act, but from the very beginning it has been known that acts have effects, not only in the outward world of things and persons, but also upon him who commits the act.
2. Affects the Inner Life:
Hence, we find throughout the Scriptures a growing emphasis on the idea of the sinful act as not only a fact in itself, but also as a revelation of an evil disposition on the part of him who commits the act (Genesis 6:5).
3. Involves All Men:
Then also there is the further idea that deeds which so profoundly affect the inner life of an individual in some way have an effect in transmitting evil tendencies to the descendants of a sinful individual (Psalms 51:5,6; Ephesians 2:3). See HEREDITY; TRADITION. Hence, we reach shortly the conception, not only that sin is profoundly inner in its consequences, but that its effects reach outward also to an extent which practically involves the race. Around these various items of doctrine differing systems of theology have sprung up.
4. The Story of the Fall:
Students of all schools are agreed that we have in the Old Testament story of the fall of Adam an eternally true account of the way sin comes into the world (Genesis 3:1-6). The question is not so much as to the literal historic matter-of-factness of the narrative, as to its essentially psychological truthfulness. The essential thought of the narrative is that both Adam and Eve disobeyed an express command of God. The seductiveness of temptation is nowhere more forcefully stated than in this narrative. The fruit of the tree is pleasant to look upon; it is good to eat; it is to be desired to make one wise; moreover, the tempter moves upon the woman by the method of the half truth (see ADAM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT). God had said that disobedience to the command would bring death; the tempter urged that disobedience would not bring death, implying that the command of God had meant that death would immediately follow the eating of the forbidden fruit. In the story the various avenues of approach of sin to the human heart are graphically suggested, but after the seductiveness of evil has thus been set forth, the fact remains that both transgressors knew they were transgressing (Genesis 3:2). Of course, the story is told in simple, naive fashion, but its perennial spiritual truth is at once apparent. There has been much progress in religious thinking concerning sin during the Christian ages, but the progress has not been away from this central conception of willful disobedience to the law of God.
5. The Freedom of Man:
In this early Biblical account there is implicit the thought of the freedom of man. The idea of transgression has sometimes been interpreted in such wise as to do away with this freedom. An unbiased reading of the Scriptures would, with the possible exception of some passages which designedly lay stress on the power of God (Romans 8:29,30), produce on the mind the impression that freedom is essential to sin. Certainly there is nothing in the account of the Old Testament or New Testament narratives to warrant the conception that men are born into sin by forces over which they have no control. The argument of the tempter with the woman is an argument aimed at her will. By easy steps, indeed, she moves toward the transgression, but the transgression is a transgression and nothing else. Of course, the evil deed is at once followed by attempts on the part of the transgressors to explain themselves, but the futility of the explanations is part of the point of the narrative. In all discussion of the problem of freedom as relating to sin, we must remember that the Biblical revelation is from first to last busy with the thought of the righteousness and justice and love of God (Genesis 6:9 tells us that because of justice or righteousness, Noah walked with God). Unless we accept the doctrine that God is Himself not free, a doctrine which is nowhere implied in the Scripture, we must insist that the condemnation of men as sinful, when they have not had freedom to be otherwise than sinful, is out of harmony with the Biblical revelation of the character of God. Of course this does not mean that a man is free in all things. Freedom is limited in various ways, but we must retain enough of freedom in our thought of the constitution of men to make possible our holding fast to the Biblical idea of sin as transgression. Some who take the Biblical narrative as literal historical fact maintain that all men sinned in Adam (see IMPUTATION, III, 1). Adam may have been free to sin or not to sin, but, "in his fall we sinned all." We shall mention the hereditary influences of sin in a later paragraph; here it is sufficient to say that even if the first man had not sinned, there is nothing in our thought of the nature of man to make it impossible to believe that the sinful course of human history could have been initiated by some descendant of the first man far down the line.
6. A Transgression against Light:
The progress of the Biblical teaching concerning sin also would seem to imply that the transgression of the law must be a transgression committed against the light (Acts 17:30; 1 Timothy 1:13). To be sinful in any full sense of the word, a man must know that the course which he is adopting is an evil course. This does not necessarily mean a full realization of the evil of the course. It is a fact, both of Biblical revelation and of revelation of all times, that men who commit sin do not realize the full evil of their deeds until after the sin has been committed (2 Samuel 12:1-13). This is partly because the consequences of sin do not declare themselves until after the deed has been committed; partly also because of the remorse of the conscience; and partly from the humiliation at being discovered; but in some sense there must be a realization of the evil of a course to make the adoption of the course sinful. E.g. in estimating the moral worth of Biblical characters, especially those of earlier times, we must keep in mind the standards of the times in which they lived. These standards were partly set by the customs of the social group, but the customs were, in many cases, made sacred by the claim of divine sanction. Hence, we find Biblical characters giving themselves readily to polygamy and warfare. The Scriptures themselves, however, throw light upon this problem. They refer to early times as times of ignorance, an ignorance which God Himself was willing to overlook (Acts 17:30). Even so ripe a moral consciousness as that of Paul felt that there was ground for forgiveness toward a course which he himself later considered evil, because in that earlier course he had acted ignorantly (Acts 26:9; 1 Timothy 1:13).
7. Inwardness of the Moral Law:
The Biblical narratives, too, show us the passage over from sin conceived of as the violation of external commands to sin conceived of as an unwillingness to keep the commandments in the depths of the inner life. The course of Biblical history is one long protest against conceiving of sin in an external fashion.
In the sources of light which are to help men discern good from evil, increasing stress is laid upon inner moral insight (compare Isaiah 58:5; Hosea 6:1-7). The power of the prophets was in their direct moral insight and the fervor with which they made these insights real to the mass of the people. Of course it was necessary that the spirit of the prophets be given body and form in carefully articulated law. The progress of the Hebrews from the insight of the seer to the statute of the lawmaker was not different from such progress in any other nations. It is easy to see, however, how the hardening of moral precepts into formal codes, absolutely necessary as that task was, led to an externalizing of the thought of sin. The man who did not keep the formal law was a sinner. On such basis there grew up the artificial systems which came to their culmination in the New Testament times in Pharisaism. On the other hand, a fresh insight by a new prophet might be in violation of the Law, considered in its literal aspects. It might be necessary for a prophet to attack outright some additions to the Law. We regard as a high-water mark of Old Testament moral utterances the word of Micah that the Lord requires men to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (6:8). At the time this word was uttered, the people were giving themselves up to multitudes of sacrifices. Many of these sacrifices called for the heaviest sufferings on the part of the worshippers. It would seem that an obligation to sacrifice the firstborn was beginning to be taught in order that the Hebrews might not be behind the neighboring heathen nations in observances of religious codes. The simple direct word of Micah must have seemed heresy to many of its first hearers. The outcome, however, of this conflict between the inner and the outer in the thought of transgression was finally to deepen the springs of the inner life. The extremes of externalism led to a break with moral realities which tended to become apparent to the most ordinary observer. The invective of Jesus against New Testament Pharisaism took its force largely from the fact that Jesus gave clear utterance to what everyone knew. Those who thought of religion as external gave themselves to formal keeping of the commandments and allowed the inner life to run riot as it would (Matthew 23:23, et al.).
With the more serious-minded the keeping of the Law became more and more a matter of the inner spirit. There were some who, like Paul, found it impossible to keep the Law and find peace of conscience (Romans 7). It was this very impossibility which forced some, like Paul, to understand that after all, sin or righteousness must be judged by the inner disposition. It was this which led to the search for a conception of a God who looks chiefly at the heart and judges men by the inner motive.
In the teaching of Jesus the emphasis upon the inner spirit as the essential factor in the moral life came to its climax. Jesus honored the Law, but He pushed the keeping of the Law back from the mere performance of externals to the inner stirrings of motives. It is not merely the actual commission of adultery, for example, that is sin:
it is the lustful desire which leads to the evil glance; it is not merely the actual killing of the man that is murder; it is the spirit of hatred which makes the thought of murder welcome (Matthew 5:21,27). Paul caught the spirit of Jesus and carried the thought of Jesus out into more elaborate and formal statements. There is a law of the inner life with which man should bind himself, and this law is the law of Christ's life itself (Romans 8:1-4). While both Jesus and Paul recognized the place of the formal codes in the moral life of individuals and societies, they wrought a great service for righteousness in setting on high the obligations upon the inner spirit. The follower of Christ is to guard the inmost thoughts of his heart. The commandments are not always precepts which can be given articulated statement; they are rather instincts and intuitions and glimpses which must be followed, even when we cannot give them full statement.
8. Sin a Positive Force:
From this standpoint we are able to discern something of the force of the Biblical teaching as to whether sin is to be looked upon as negative or positive. Very often sin is defined as the mere absence of goodness. The man who sins is one who does not keep the Law. This, however, is hardly the full Biblical conception. Of course, the man who does not keep the Law is regarded as a sinner, but the idea transgression is very often that of a positive refusal to keep the commandment and a breaking of the commandment. Two courses are set before men, one good, the other evil. The evil course is, in a sense, something positive in itself. The evil man does not stand still; he moves as truly as the good man moves; he becomes a positive force for evil. In all our discussions we must keep clearly in mind the truth that evil is not something existing in and by itself. The Scriptures deal with evil men, and the evil men are as positive as their natures permit them to be. In this sense of the word sin does run a course of positive destruction. In the thought, e.g., of the writer who describes the conditions which, in his belief, made necessary the Flood, we have a positive state of evil contaminating almost the whole world (Genesis 6:11). It would be absurd to characterize the world in the midst of which Noah lived as merely a negative world. The world was positively set toward evil. And so, in later writings, Paul's thought of Roman society is of a world of sinful men moving with increasing velocity toward the destruction of themselves and of all around them through doing evil. It is impossible to believe that Romans 1 conceives of sin merely in negative terms. We repeat, we do not do full justice to the Biblical conception when we speak of sin merely in negative terms. If we may be permitted to use a present-day illustration, we may say that in the Biblical thought sinful men are like the destructive forces in the world of Nature which must be removed before there can be peace and health for human life. For example, science today has much to say concerning germs of diseases which prove destructive to human life. A large part of modern scientific effort has been to rid the world of these germs, or at least to cleanse human surroundings from their contaminating touch. The man who sterilizes the human environment so that these forces cannot touch men does in one sense a merely negative work; in another sense, however, his work makes possible the positive development of the forces which make for health.
It is from this thought of the positiveness of sin that we are to approach the problem of the hereditary transmission of evil. The Biblical teaching has often been misinterpreted at this point. Apart from certain passages, especially those of Paul, which set forth the practically universal contamination of sin (e.g. Romans 5:18, etc.), there is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest the idea that men are born into the world under a weight of guilt. We hold fast to the idea of God as a God of justice and love. There is no way of reconciling these attributes with the condemnation of human souls before these souls have themselves transgressed. Of course much theological teaching moves on the assumption that the tendencies to evil are so great that the souls will necessarily trangress, but we must keep clearly in mind the difference between a tendency to evil and the actual commission of evil. Modern scientific research reinforces the conception that the children of sinful parents, whose sins have been such as to impress their lives throughout, will very soon manifest symptoms of evil tendency. Even in this case, however, we must distinguish between the psychological and moral. The child may be given a wrong tendency from birth, not only by hereditary transmission, but by the imitation of sinful parents; yet the question of the child's own personal responsibility is altogether another matter. Modern society has come to recognize something of the force of this distinction. In dealing with extreme cases of this kind, the question of the personal guilt of the child is not raised. The attempt is to throw round about the child an environment that will correct the abnormal tendency. But there can be little gainsaying the fact that the presence of sin in the life of the parent may go as far as to mark the life of the child with the sinful tendency.
The positive force of sinful life also appears in the effect of sin upon the environment of men. It is not necessary for us to believe that all the physical universe was cursed by the Almighty because of man's sin, in order to hold that there is a curse upon the world because of the presence of sinful men. Men have sinfully despoiled the world for their own selfish purposes. They have wasted its resources. They have turned forces which ought to have made for good into the channels of evil. In their contacts with one another also, evil men furnish an evil environment. If the employer of 100 men be himself evil, he is to a great extent the evil environment of those 100 men. The curse of his evil is upon them. So with the relations of men in larger social groups:
the forces of state-life which are intended to work for good can be made to work for evil. So far has this gone that some earnest minds have thought of the material and social realms as necessarily and inherently evil. In other days this led to retreats from the world in monasteries and in solitary cells. In our present time the same thought is back of much of the pessimist idea that the world itself is like a sinking ship, absolutely doomed. The most we can hope for is to save individuals here and there from imminent destruction. Yet a more Biblical conception keeps clear of all this. The material forces of the world--apart from certain massive physical necessities (e.g. earthquakes, storms, floods, whirlwinds, fires, etc.), whose presence does more to furnish the conditions of moral growth than to discourage that growth--are what men cause them to be. Social forces are nothing apart from the men who are themselves the forces. No one can deny that evil men can use physical forces for evil purposes, and that evil men can make bad social forces, but both these forces can be used for good as well as for evil. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain" waiting for the redemption at the hands of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-23).
In the thought of Jesus, righteousness is life. Jesus came that men might have life (John 10:10). It must follow therefore that in His thought sin is death, or rather it is the positive course of transgression which makes toward death (John 5:24). But man is to cease to do evil and to learn to do well. He is to face about and walk in a different direction; he is to be born from above (John 3:3), and surrender himself to the forces which beat upon him from above rather than to those which surge upon him from below (Romans 12:2). From the realization of the positiveness both of sin and of righteousness, we see the need of a positive force which is to bring men from sin to righteousness (John 3:3-8).
Of course, in what we have said of the positive nature of sin we would not deny that there are multitudes of men whose evil consists in their passive acquiescence in a low moral state. Multitudes of men may not be lost, in the sense that they are breaking the more obvious of the commandments. They are lost, in the sense that they are drifting about, or that they are existing in a condition of inertness with no great interest in high spiritual ideals. But the problem even here is to find a force strong enough and positive enough to bring such persons to themselves and to God. In any case the Scriptures lay stress upon the seriousness of the problem constituted by sin. The Bible is centered on redemption. Redemption from sin is thought of as carrying with it redemption from all other calamities. If the kingdom of God and of His righteousness can be seized, all other things will follow with the seizure (Matthew 6:33). The work of Christ is set before us as chiefly a work of redemption from sin. A keen student once observed that almost all failures to take an adequate view of the person of Christ can be traced to a failure to realize adequately the seriousness of sin. The problem of changing the course of something so positive as a life set toward sin is a problem which may well tax the resources of the Almighty. Lives cannot be transformed merely by precept. The only effective force is the force of a divine life which will reach and save human lives.
12. Life in Christ:
We are thus in a position to see something of the positiveness of the life that must be in Christ if He is to be a Saviour from sin. That positiveness must be powerful enough to make men feel that in some real sense God Himself has come to their rescue (Romans 8:32-39). For the problem of salvation from sin is manifold. Sin long persisted in begets evil habits, and the habits must be broken. Sin lays the conscience under a load of distress, for which the only relief is a sense of forgiveness. Sin blights and paralyzes the faculties to such a degree that only the mightiest of tonic forces can bring back health and strength. And the problem is often more serious than this. The presence of evil in the world is so serious in the sight of a Holy God that He Himself, because of His very holiness, must be under stupendous obligation to aid us to the utmost for the redemption of men. Out of the thought of the disturbance which sin makes even in the heart of God, we see something of the reason for the doctrine that in the cross of Christ God was discharging a debt to Himself and to the whole world; for the insistence also that in the cross there is opened up a fountain of life, which, if accepted by sinful men, will heal and restore them.
It is with this seriousness of sin before us that we must think of forgiveness from sin. We can understand very readily that sin can be forgiven only on condition that men seek forgiveness in the name of the highest manifestation of holiness which they have known. For those who have heard the preaching of the cross and have seen something of the real meaning of that preaching, the way to forgiveness is in the name of the cross. In the name of a holiness which men would make their own, if they could; in the name of an ideal of holy love which men of themselves cannot reach, but which they forever strive after, they seek forgiveness. But the forgiveness is to be taken seriously. In both the Old Testament and New Testament repentance is not merely a changed attitude of mind. It is an attitude which shows its sincerity by willingness to do everything possible to undo the evil which the sinner has wrought (Luke 19:8). If there is any consequence of the sinner's own sin which the sinner can himself make right, the sinner must in himself genuinely repent and make that consequence right. In one sense repentance is not altogether something done once for all. The seductiveness of sin is so great that there is need of humble and continuous watching. While anything like a morbid introspection is unscriptural, constant alertness to keep to the straight and narrow path is everywhere enjoined as an obligation (Galatians 6:1).
There is nothing in the Scriptures which will warrant the idea that forgiveness is to be conceived of in such fashion as would teach that the consequences of sin can be easily and quickly eliminated. Change in the attitude of a sinner necessarily means change in the attitude of God. The sinner and God, however, are persons, and the Scriptures always speak of the problem of sin after a completely personal fashion. The changed attitude affects the personal standing of the sinner in the sight of God. But God is the person who creates and carries on a moral universe. In carrying on that universe He must keep moral considerations in their proper place as the constitutional principles of the universe. While the father welcomes back the prodigal to the restored personal relations with himself, he cannot, in the full sense, blot out the fact that the prodigal has been a prodigal. The personal forgiveness may be complete, but the elimination of the consequences of the evil life is possible only through the long lines of healing set at work. The man who has sinned against his body can find restoration from the consequences of the sin only in the forces which make for bodily healing. So also with the mind and will. The mind which has thought evil must be cured of its tendency to think evil. To be sure the curative processes may come almost instantly through the upheaval of a great experience, but on the other hand, the curative processes may have to work through long years (see SANCTIFICATION). The will which has been given to sin may feel the stirrings of sin after the life of forgiveness has begun. All this is a manifestation, not only of the power of sin, but of the constitutional morality of the universe. Forgiveness must not be interpreted in such terms as to make the transgression of the Law of God in any sense a light or trivial offense. But, on the other hand, we must not set limits to the curative powers of the cross of God. With the removal of the power which makes for evil the possibility of development in real human experience is before the life (see FORGIVENESS). The word of the Master is that He "came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Sin is serious, because it thwarts life. Sin is given so large a place in the thought of the Biblical writers simply because it blocks the channel of that movement toward the fullest life which the Scriptures teach is the aim of God in placing men in the world. God is conceived of as the Father in Heaven. Sin has a deeply disturbing effect in restraining the relations between the Father and the sons and of preventing the proper development of the life of the sons.
See further ETHICS, I, 3, (2); ETHICS OF JESUS, I, 2; GUILT; JOHANNINE THEOLOGY, V, 1; PAUL, THE APOSTLE; PAULINE THEOLOGY; REDEMPTION, etc.
Tennant, Origin and Propagation of Sin; Hyde, Sin and Its Forgiveness; chapter on "Incarnation and Atonement" in Bowne's Studies in Christianity; Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation; Clarke, Christian Doctrine of God; various treatises on Systematic Theology.
Francis J. McConnell
These files are public domain.
sin (cin, "clay or mud"; Suene, Codex Alexandrinus Tanis):
A city of Egypt mentioned only in Ezekiel 30:15,16. This seems to be a pure Semitic name. The ancient Egyptian name, if the place ever had one such, is unknown. Pelusium (Greek Pelousion) also meant "the clayey or muddy town." The Pelusiac mouth of the Nile was "the muddy mouth," and the modern Arabic name of this mouth has the same significance. These facts make it practically certain that the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) is correct in identifying Sin with Pelusium. But although Pelusium appears very frequently in ancient history, its exact location is still not entirely certain. The list of cities mentioned in Eze in connection with Sin furnishes no clue to its location. From other historical notices it seems to have been a frontier city. Rameses II built a wall from Sin to Heliopolis, probably by the aid of Hebrew slaves (Diodorus Siculus; compare Budge, History of Egypt, V, 90), to protect the eastern frontier. Sin was a meeting-place of Egypt with her enemies who came to attack her, many great battles being fought at or near this place. Sennacherib and Cambyses both fought Egypt near Pelusium (Herodotus ii.141; iii.10-13). Antiochus IV defeated the Egyptians here (Budge, VIII, 25), and the Romans under Gabinius defeated the Egyptians in the same neighborhood. Pelusium was also accessible from the sea, or was very near a seaport, for Pompey after the disaster at Pharsalia fled into Egypt, sailing for Pelusium. These historical notices of Pelusium make its usual identification with the ruins near el-Kantara, a station on the Suez Canal 29 miles South of Port Said, most probable. "Sin, the stronghold of Egypt," in the words of Ezekiel (30:15), would thus refer to its inaccessibility because of swamps which served as impassable moats. The wall on the South and the sea on the North also protected it on either flank.
M. G. Kyle
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