Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2019

The Peculiarities of the Definition of Sin

How many times have you sat in church and been told by the pastor that the word for sin is taken from the word hamartia, which means missing the mark? You’re then told that the meaning of the word is based on an archery term and perhaps you were given a teaching slide which showed such an image.

In the examples above, there is only one arrow and it lands appropriately in what we could call the center of God’s will or even, as applied in our generation, the center of God’s design. Of course, anything that missing that mark, in God`s economy simply doesn`t count. The following diagram makes that more clear…

…And yet we`re faced with an analogy that offers — and certainly does in the sport itself on which the analogy is based — an opportunity to come close and receive a lower score.  I`ve always pictured this more like the image below…

…and have even gone so far to say that in reference to contemporary issues of co-habitation, divorce, and even gay marriage, that some of those things borrow from the ideal, and yet still miss; the idea of a graduated response.

I wish I could articulate this better, but here goes…

I wonder sometimes if instead of looking at human behavior as being either right or wrong in God’s eyes, we should look at our various responses to His intentions as falling into categories like

  • good
  • better
  • best

In other words, a person who has lived 24 years in a committed gay relationship obviously sees some value to that; especially when one considers the hurt and rejection they have had to face [the price they’ve had to pay] from others over the course of those years. But in God’s eyes there may have been a ‘better’ or even a ‘best’ that they missed out on. Taking that to the next logical step, we can see how anything that falls short of God’s ideal standard could by some measure be considered sin because that’s how the word sin was originally defined. But it would appear to some that it was still ‘good.’* So the question is can there be activities that appear ‘good’ (either to some or to all) but also appear to be ‘sin’ (to those who have studied God’s intention or ideal plan)?

*Clarification: I went on to say that those relationships, while they are not best, might be seen by some (including the parties involved) as good or better to the extent that they borrow from the best. Perhaps it’s a Christian couple that attends church, gives, and supports a child through Compassion. Perhaps they are committed to monogamy. Perhaps they demonstrated all of the Fruit of the Spirit.

But transgression in civil law doesn`t work like that does it?

If the speed limit is 60 and you’re doing 65, it’s less than 10% over, but you’re still speeding. If the girl is due to have a birthday in two weeks, 14 days seems pretty trivial, but she’s still underage.

So why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?

In that benchmark source for all things theological that is Wikipedia (!) we read:

Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean “missing the mark” or “off the mark”.

There are four basic usages for hamartia:

  1. Hamartia is sometimes used to mean acts of sin “by omission or commission in thought and feeling or in speech and actions” as in Romans 5:12, “all have sinned”
  2. Hamartia is sometimes applied to the fall of man from original righteousness that resulted in humanity’s innate propensity for sin, that is original sin For example, as in Romans 3:9, everyone is “under the power of sin”
  3. A third application concerns the “weakness of the flesh” and the free will to resist sinful acts. “The original inclination to sin in mankind comes from the weakness of the flesh.”
  4. Hamartia is sometimes “personified”. For example, Romans 6:20 speaks of being enslaved to hamartia (sin).

Perhaps we’ve overstated the archery image. (Preaching in different eras does go through periods of emphasis and de-emphasis of certain principles) Clearly, to God, sin is sin. You hit that target center or you don’t. You (as in Rom. 3.23) fall short of his glory. Other than The Message and J. B. Phillips, all of the English translations speak of God’s glory in that verse. (The other two looking more toward justification as key.)

It’s easy to say, “I missed the bullseye, but at least I landed on the target.” Or simply, “I’m trying.”

But knowing God’s ideal; knowing that the goal of the game is to hit the center; knowing that God’s desire is we aim for a perfect score… this has to commit us to aiming to do nothing less.

So again I ask, why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?  Or did he give us something more like Wikipedia states and we’ve simply overemphasized an alternative use of the word in antiquity?

What visual image would you choose?

2 Comments »

  1. Paul,
    We may attempt to aim for the center ring, and certainly we ought, but We Have Already Missed. . . Consequently, we’ve all ready lost the match and the game is over. Time now to rest in the One Who Hit The Center Ring–Yeshua. Salvation through Faith in Yeshua. We must understand and confess we’ve missed. We must Yeshua and have the New Law written upon our hearts. It’s not about us missing the mark. It’ about Yeshua Hitting TheMark. It’s about Yeshua.

    L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

    Comment by jonahzsong — June 11, 2019 @ 9:14 pm

  2. That’s a good observation; one I hadn’t considered before with respect to being closer or farther from the ideal. I agree with you that there are measures of how well we are doing with respect to God’s standard. This is why Christ calls us not to judge (condemn) each other; we must leave it to God to judge the actions of the person.
    One thing that I’ve heard Bruxy Cavey (The Meeting House) say before is that Christians often assume that sin is being too liberal with God’s standard. But we can also miss the target to the “right” — we can also be too conservative and miss God’s standard. Jesus demonstrated lots of times where observing the law was not as important as care for the people in his midst — the pharisees were missing the target to the right.

    Comment by Mike — June 13, 2019 @ 5:04 pm


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