Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sin in the Bible - Part 1 Hebrew Words


In the Old Testament, there are 14 Hebrew root words translated as sin or variations of the word sin as illustrated in Figure 1.[1] I will only address some of these here. The most common of these terms is the idea of missing the mark found in the Hebrew חָטָא, חֶטְאָה, חָטָא [chata’ /khaw·taw/].[2] Literal usages such as that found in Proverbs 19:2 and Judges 20:16 are rare. The phrase “missing the mark” usually indicates making a mistake rather than an intentional sin.[3] The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon defines chata’ as to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness.[4] However, Biblical usage indicates not simply a failure but a decision to fail. Ryrie not only agrees with the idea of missing the mark but expands that to include such missing is intentional adding that it is also a matter of hitting something else and is used of moral evil, idolatry, and ceremonial sins.[5] Missing the mark, in the Biblical sense, is not passive.
The next most common, the word רַע, רַע [ra` /rah/], appears 667 times in the OT.[6] Of those occurrences, ra is translated over 400 times as evil, more than 50 times as wickedness, 25 times as wicked, 21 times as mischief, and even once as a man who is stingy.[7] Overwhelmingly, this word has very negative connotations. The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon uses many variations of evil or bad and suggests calamity and injury. It is interesting to note that in his discussion of ra, Ryrie brings attention to Isaiah 45:7 where God states that He creates the light and darkness.[8] Of course, this is not controversial but the next sentence certain is where God states that He makes peace and creates evil[9] or as other translations indicate, calamity.[10] Whether translated calamity or evil, this is a clear demonstration that all things are a part of God’s plan for his creation.
פָּשַׁע [pasha` /paw·shah/] appears 41 times in the OT and is translated as transgress, transgressor, rebelled, revolt, offended, transgression, and trespassed.[11] The idea of pasha (or pasa) is open rebellion or to revolt against God (1Ki 8:50; 12:19; 2Ki 1:1; 3:5, 7; 8:20, 22; 2Ch 10:19; 21:8, 10; Ezr 10:13; Ps 37:38; 51:15; Pr 28:21; Isa 1:2, 28; 43:27; 46:8; 48:8; 53:12; 59:13; 66:24; Jer 2:8, 29; 3:13; 33:8; La 3:42; Eze 2:3; 18:31; 20:38; Da 8:23; Hos 7:13; 8:1; 14:10; Am 4:4; Zep 3:11)[12]. Clearly the Old Testament had a great deal to say the people of Israel’s rebellion against God.
שָׁגָה [shagah /shaw·gaw/] appears 21 times and is defined as committing an error of ignorance, going astray, or leading astray.[13] Ryrie sums this up as referring to error for which the one committing it is responsible. Thus, as it relates to the Law, shagah implies that the one who goes astray is responsible for knowing what the Law commanded (Lev. 4:2; Num. 15:22).[14] Ryrie’s simple assessment is only partially correct however. Leviticus 4:2 specifically mentions unintentional sin and how the priest is to atone for those sins. We also see twice in Job (6:24; 19:4) that Job never denies committing sin but asks that he be made aware of those what those sins may be. In the Biblical context, it seems clear that people can and do commit sin without being consciously aware of it thought they are still held responsible.
אָשַׁם [’asham, ’ashem /aw·sham/] appears 35 times and translates as guilty, offend, trespass, faulty, greatly, and offense.[15] The principle idea of asham is guilt before God and seems to encompass both intentional and unintentional guilt (Lev. 4:13, 22, 27; 5:2-3, 17, 23). There is also the idea of punishment or restitution associated with asham (Nu. 5:7; Ezr. 10:19) by way of guilt-offerings or trespass-offerings. The fact that restitution can be made for some offenses is interesting in that making restitution is a work performed by the offender. Closely related to asham is לְעַנּׄות, עוּן, עָנָה, עָנָה [`anah /aw·naw/] which in additional to implying guilt suggests liability.[16] What can be seen from the Biblical text is that guilt can stem from both intentional and unintentional acts on the part of the person committing the sin. We also see that committing a sin against another person is the same as committing a sin against God.
Finally, the word שָׁפַט [shaphat /shaw·fat/] which appears 203 times in the OT text. Shaphat is translated as the verb judge 119 times and the noun judge 60 times. It is also translated plead, avenged, condemn, execute, defend, and deliver. The idea of shaphat is to adjudicate a matter between two parties in a court or less formal setting with the implication that the judge has both the authority to punish and the finality of the decision to be made.[17] Moses acts in this capacity when the people bring matters to him.[18] This idea however is a bit narrow. In the ancient world, the functions of government were not divided into executive, judicial, and legislative as they are in much of the world today.[19] So, to simply translate shaphat as judge is inadequate. In a broader sense, shaphat principally means to exercise government. Confusion on the part of modern readers arises due to the fact that government was centered on a man rather than on laws themselves.[20]
There are still additional Hebrew words that could be discussed such as תָּעָה (tā∙ʿā(h)) meaning to go astray as to hold a wrong view of something that needs correction[21]. The scope of this assignment would certainly allow for such a word study to continue but the length would likely exceed the limitations imposed. What can be seen from our view of the words translated as sin in the OT is a sense of sin being a violation or infringement of a moral code and corrective action being necessary to bring the sinner back into conformity with said code. In fact, the entirety of sin in the OT can be described as a failure to adhere to the moral code, the Law, and how one may receive forgiveness from these transgressions. It will become clear that this is not the case in the New Testament (NT).

[1] McDaniel, Chip, and C. John Collins. The ESV English-Hebrew Reverse Interlinear Old Testament. (Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2006; 2009). Figure 1 illustrates the various Hebrew words translated as sin.
[2] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 586.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order (electronic ed.). (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), 2398.
[5] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1999), 239.
[6] Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order (electronic ed.). (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), 7451.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1999), 239.
[9] The Holy Bible: King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. (Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Is. 45:7.
[10] New American Standard Bible. (LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995 Update), Is. 45:7.
[11] Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order (electronic ed.). (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), 6586.
[12] Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 7321.
[13] Ibid, 7686.
[14] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1999), 240.
[15] Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order (electronic ed.). (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), 816.
[16] See Ex. 34:7.
[17] Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 9149.
[18] See Ex. 18:13-27. It is also interesting to note in this passage that Jethro sees Moses bogged down in civil cases and recommends that Moses choose others who were morally qualified to serve in this capacity though following this advice did not occur until the giving of the Law in Deut. 1:5-15.
[19] Harris, Laird R., Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980), 947.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 9494.

1 comment:

Chris Sanchez said...

This post is taken from a recent research paper for a class at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.