A fellow blogger and friend asked the following question:
Our first topic to discuss is sin. This is a doozey folks!
We want to start by asking you to share your thoughts with us all on this question, “How many categories of sin are taught in scripture?” Don’t everyone rush to comment now…lol! We want to read your thoughts, then we will share what we have found in scripture.
Blessings to All!
If you are like me, sin is not a topic on your list of favorite subjects. In some ways, it is almost like our spouse — a very humbling reality, because sin defines us at our very core. My wife knows all my flaws and weaknesses, can shatter any facade I put up in a matter of minutes. Sin, too, exposes those parts of me that are weak and make me less than ideal for being a father, husband, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc.
However, there is no shortage of references to sin the scriptures and as such, I believe its beneficial to our growth in Christ to look at it. Here are a couple of things I did not realize jumping into the subject:
- Hamartiology is the theological term for the study of sin.
- There are multiple degrees of sin (although all end in death) — I knew Christ treated hurting the innocence of children differently & sexual sins affected us differently, but there is so much more to the concepts of sin!
- The scriptures contain 33 different words for the concept of sin — Meaning the issue is far more complicated than “I goofed, but God will forgive me.” At the same time, it is a clear warning that like any other topic in scripture, it too is subject to legalism.
Intention vs. Unintentional
Over all the concepts of sin, these two umbrellas are present in Scriptures. I use the term “umbrella” because I don’t think they are silos. Some sins fall under both depending on the intent of the perpetrator (such a nice term for us). We know these categories exist because:
- Being human suggests as such — you know when you have sinned intentionally, premediated & when it was an accident
- Levitical Law — most of the laws in Leviticus start off with “If a person sins unintentionally…”
- Psalm 19 — One of David’s works wherein he pleads that God would keep him from presumptious sins.
Exodus 34:7 & Isaiah 53
This is an interesting passage because it captures 3 different Hebrew words for the concepts of sin in one verse:
Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
The context here is that God had just given Moses the two tablets upon which the 10 commandments were written. Incidentally, breaking one of those commandments is an act of sin. Now then, there are three words that I have bolded that indicate various hamartiological definitions:
- Transgressions — Pesha in Hebrew. The concept is an open revolt against God’s authority or a willful act to spite God. The literal translation is similar to “going beyond the limits” of Torah. By far the worse act of sin and the penalty is death.
- Iniquity — Avon in Hebrew. The concept is capital sins or an idea of willfully twisting or perverting the will of God for selfish gain. Again the penalty is death.
- Sin — Chata’ah in Hebrew. The concept is a mistake or error. The literal translation is “missing the mark” (Yep, coined by the Hebrews long before Paul). This is what a typical sacrifice was for in the Levitical law.
What I find absolutely intriguing about this particular passage is how closely it compares to a passage out of Isaiah 53, where in the prophet describes a Messiah that would come to take away these exact same sins:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
That is just a portion of the passage, but the same terms are present. Based on the Levitical law, sacrifices were only for Chata’ah. But this passage foreshadowing Christ, indicates there is a much deeper purpose in the Cross — that is all forms of sin would be taken away!
Original & Imputed
The terms “original” and “imputed sin are not found in the scriptures, but the concepts are implied: Original Sin — this is the sin that Adam brought into existence through his disobedience. Imputed Sin — that sinful nature is passed down to us through human nature
Paul sums it up in Romans 5:12 when he states:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
Vertical & Horizontal
Due to the very nature of our relationships, we can sin vertically (against God) or Horizontally (against people). When asked which of the commandments was the greatest, Christ answered emphasizing these two relationships:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. — Matthew 22:27-40
Internal & External
Our sins can also be internal or external in nature. These of course affect us and those around us differently. For example, if God convicts me to read the scriptures instead of playing a video game and I disobey, that has no bearing on my relationship with my supervisor at work. Where as, if I stole something, that would get me fired and would significantly impact my relationship with my supervisor. The scriptures illustrate both:
- Matthew 15:19 (Internal) — For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.
- Matthew 5:28 (External) — But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Commission & Omission
The scriptures are full of examples of sins of commission, where in the perpetrator willfully disobeys God. Usually this takes place in the form of breaking one of the Ten Commandments. However, there is also a sin for omission, or choosing not do something when you should. James captures this concept in the forth chapter of his letter:
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Sin that Leads to Death
I did come across a scripture in 1 John 5 that I do not know what to make of it and perhaps you can shed some light on it:
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
Perhaps the author is referring to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32)? Regardless, it shows that there are indeed different types of sin.
This makes sense from a practical standpoint. In our own society, we have different levels of transgression as well. Would you require the death penalty for all these:
- Child steals a cookie when mom is not looking
- You run a red light because you are late to work
- You refuse an invite on the grounds of “feeling sick” when in reality you don’t like the person
- You cheat on your Income taxes so you don’t have to pay as much
These are all wrong, but they don’t require the death penalty as a form of punishment. Perhaps our wisdom is not far from the scriptures in this regard.