corner graphic

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Sin

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

SIN . The teaching of the Bible with regard to the doctrine of sin may be said to involve a desire, on the part of the leaders of Jewish thought, to give a rational account of the fact, the consciousness, and the results of human error. Whatever be the conclusion arrived at respecting the compilation of the early chapters of Genesis, one thought, at least, clearly emerges: the narratives are saturated through and through with religious conceptions. Omnipotence, sovereignty, condescending active love, and perfect moral harmony, all find their place in the narratives there preserved, as attributes of the Divine character. The sublime conception of human dignity and worth is such that, in spite of all temptation to the contrary belief, it remains to-day as a firmly rooted, universally received verity, that man is made ‘in the image of God’ ( Genesis 1:27 ).

I. The Old Testament

1. The early narratives . It is remarkable that in the story of the Fall the writer (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) attributes the sin to a positive act of conscious disobedience to God, and not only so, but he regards it as an entity standing over against ‘good’ ( Genesis 2:17 ), This is more clearly brought out in the same writer’s narrative of the murder of Abel, where sin is represented as ‘couching at the door,’ lying in wait for the overthrow of the sullen homicide ( Genesis 4:7 ). The profound psychological truth that the power of sin grows in the character of him who yields to its dictates is also noticed in this story. Falsehood and selfishness and defiance of God are heard in Cain’s answer to the Divine voice. These stories are the beginning of the history of a long process of development which resulted in the Flood. From individual acts of wrong-doing we are brought face to face with the condition, ‘every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ ( Genesis 6:5 ). Hitherto God is represented as commanding, punishing, pleading with man, and even encouraging him with hopes of future restoration ( Genesis 3:15 ). The growth and arrogance of sin in the human race became so pronounced and universal that He is said to have rejected man completely, and in His wrath to have destroyed His creation, which was infected by man’s corruption. He is ‘grieved at his heart,’ and is repentant for having ‘made man on the earth’ ( Genesis 6:6 f.). The same narrator, in giving the current explanation of the diversity of human language, notes another racial rebellion against God, which was punished by the overthrow of Babel ( Genesis 11:1-9 ).

A change in the Divine method of dealing with sinful man is now noticeable. The writers lead gradually up to this, beginning with Noah, whose righteousness (walk with God, cf. Genesis 6:9 ) stands in solitary contrast to the universal decadence. The educative elective principle enters into the relationships of God and man. A covenant is established by which these relationships are defined, and by consequence human consciousness is gradually deepened. As a result, temptation to sin becomes more formidable and many-sided. In Individual cases outside the covenant we see, indeed, evidences of a higher standard of moral obligation than that reached by the Patriarchs (cf. Genesis 12:18 f., Genesis 20:9 f.). At the same time, the history of Esau furnishes us with proof that already glimmerings of a more profound ethical basis upon which to build human character, than that recognized elsewhere, had begun to obtrude themselves. If in the case of Abraham ‘faith was reckoned for righteousness’ ( Romans 4:9 ), and belief in the fidelity of God’s promises, in the face of the most untoward conditions, constituted the foundation-stone of the patriarch’s noble character, so in Esau’s case it was the lack of this belief, with the consequent inability to appreciate the dignity to which he was born, that lay at the root of his great and pathetic failure. The secret of Joseph’s power to resist temptation lay, not merely in his natural inability to be guilty of a breach of trust towards his master, but still more in his intense realization that to yield would be a ‘great wickedness and sin against God’ ( Genesis 39:9 ). Thus, while it is true to say that the dominant conception of sin in the OT is that it is the great disturbing element in the personal relations of God and man, it seems to have been realized very early that the chief scope for its exercise lay in the domain of human intercourse. The force of Abimelech’s complaint against Abraham lay in the fact that the former was guiltless of wronging the latter, whereas he was in serious danger of sinning against God in consequence of the patriarch’s duplicity.

2. The Sinaitic Law . The next great critical point in the evolution of human consciousness of sin is reached in the promulgation of the Law from Sinai. Here the determinative process of Divine election is seen in its widest and most elaborate working. The central purpose of the Law may be considered as of a twofold character. Not only are the restrictions tabulated in order to the erection of barriers against the commission of sin (‘God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before you, that ye sin not,’ Exodus 20:20 ), but positive enactments regulating the personal communion of God and Israel provide frequently recurring opportunities of loving and joyful service ( Exodus 23:14 ff.). The law of restitution, as given in Exodus 21:1-36 ; Exodus 22:1-31 , may be regarded as harsh in some of its enactments, hut it may be easily conceived as an immense stride forward on the road to ‘the royal law. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ( James 2:8 ). Nor can it be said that restitution and mutual service between God and His people are left out of sight in those chapters of Exodus which are universally recognized as containing the oldest part of the Mosaic Code. These anthropopathic conceptions of God abound, and are seen in the idea of His jealousy being roused by idolatrous practices ( Exodus 20:5 ), in the promises made to Israel that, in return for services to Jehovah, He will save His people in the face of their enemies ( Exodus 23:25 ff.). Thus it will be easily understood that, as the Levitical and Priestly Codes were gradually elaborated into a somewhat intricate system of legal and ceremonial obligations, the nomenclature of sin in its various aspects came to he accordingly enlarged. For example, in one verse three distinct words occur in connexion with Divine forgiveness (‘forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ,’ Exodus 34:7 ), and though there is a certain vagueness in the precise meaning to be attached to each of these words, whether it be guilt or punishment, rebellion or sin-offering, wickedness considered as a condition, or trespass, which is in the writers’ minds, the thoughts underlying each have to do with the relations between God and His people. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that the ceremonial enactments provided a circle of ideas of permanent importance in the Hebrew conception of Jehovah’s character. The law of clean and unclean animals and things paved the way for truer and nobler thoughts of God’s holiness, and of the uncleanness of sin as being its contradiction. The ‘trespass’ of Achan, involving as it did the whole of Israel in his guilt and punishment, did not consist so much in his stealing of the common spoil taken from the enemy, as in his appropriating what was ‘holy,’ or ‘devoted’ unto the service of God ( Joshua 7:1 ; Joshua 7:11 ff.). The presence of ‘the devoted thing’ with the common property of the army dragged the whole people into a position of guilt, which could be expiated only by the death of the offender. In this way alone could they be restored to Divine favour, and their army receive Divine succour.

3. Deuteronomy and the Historical Books . In the Deuteronomic summary of the Law, whatever be the date at which it was edited, a loftier ground of obedience is attained. Love, of God and of their fellow-men, is more explicitly dwelt on as the motive power of human life ( Deuteronomy 6:5 ; Deuteronomy 10:12 etc.), and the heart is again and again referred to as the seat of that love, both passively and actively ( Deuteronomy 11:18 , Deuteronomy 6:6 , Deuteronomy 10:16 ). The basis upon which it is rested is the fact of God’s love for them and their fathers evidenced in many vicissitudes and in spite of much to hinder its activity ( Deuteronomy 4:37 , Deuteronomy 7:7 f., Deuteronomy 10:15 ). Though there are numerous echoes of the older conception that the keeping of God’s commandments is one side of a bargain which conditions men’s happiness and prosperity ( Deuteronomy 4:24 ; Deuteronomy 4:40 , Deuteronomy 6:15 ), yet we observe a lofty range of thought bringing in its train truer ideas of sin and guilt. The sternness of God is insisted on, but as having for its objective the good of His people ( Deuteronomy 10:13 , Deuteronomy 6:24 ). It is a necessary phase of His love, compelling them to recognize that sin against God is destructive of the sinner. The ultimate aim of the Deuteronomist is the leading of men to hate sin as God hates it, and to love mercy and righteousness as and because God loves them (cf. Deuteronomy 10:18 f., Leviticus 19:33 f.), by establishing the closest relationship and communion between Him and His people (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1 f., Deuteronomy 7:6 , Deuteronomy 26:18 f., Deuteronomy 27:9 , Deuteronomy 28:9 etc.).

One sin is specially insisted on by the Deuteronomist, namely, the sin of idolatry . No doubt this is largely due to the experience of the nation under the judges, and during the history of Israel subsequent to the great schism. The national disasters which recur so frequently during the former of these periods are always attributed to this sin; while the return of the people, under the guidance of a great representative hero, is always marked by the blessings of peace and prosperity. So in the story of the Northern Kingdom the constant refrain meets us in each succeeding reign: ‘He cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin’ ( 2 Kings 3:3 ; 2 Kings 10:29 ; 2 Kings 13:2 etc.). During the vigorous and successful reign of Ahab and Jezebel, the seeds of national decay were sown, and the historian neglects not to point out the source to which the later mournful decline may be traced ( 1 Kings 16:31 ). On the other hand, there is little reference to this sin during the reigns of Saul and David, and, in spite of the weaknesses of character displayed by the former, the historian pictures for us a great advance in national vigour and growth under these kings and their successors in the Southern Kingdom. The great rebellion against the Davidic dynasty is itself attributed to the declension of Solomon in his old age from the pure Jehovah-worship so zealously and consistently advocated by his father. We must remember also that, side by side with the introduction of foreign religious ideas, vice peculiar to Oriental despotism invaded the royal court and the nation of Israel. We are not, however, altogether limited to what is here inferentially taught as to national sin, with its consequent national punishment. David himself is represented as guilty of a sin which marred his character as an individual, and of an act of indiscretion which seems to have been regarded as a breach of that trust held by him as God’s vicegerent on earth. Both these cases are of interest for the light which they throw on the doctrine of sin and its consequences. In the case of Bathsheba, which was a purely personal transgression, the prophet Nathan comes not only as the hearer of a message of Divine pardon to the repentant sinner, but also as the stern judge pronouncing sentence of severe and protracted punishment. The death of the newly born child and the subsequent distractions arising out of the affair of Absalom are looked on as expressions of God’s wrath and of retributive justice (see 2 Samuel 12:10-18 ). Whatever the contemporary reasons may have been for regarding his public act as sinful, and even the reckless Joah considered it an act of wanton folly, we find the same features of repentance and forgiveness, and the same inclusion of others in the suffering consequent on its commission. The prophet Gad comes to the king as the revealer of God’s wrath and the messenger of God’s pardon ( 2 Samuel 24:1-25 ). Into this narrative, however, another element is introduced, telling of the difficulty which was felt, even at this early stage of human history, as to the origin of sin. God is said by the early historian of David’s reign to have been the author of the king’s act, because ‘His anger was kindled against Israel’ ( 2 Samuel 24:1 ). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that at one stage of Hebrew thought God was looked on as, in some respects at least, the author of evil (cf. Exodus 4:21 ; Exodus 7:3 ; Exodus 14:8 , Judges 9:23 , 1 Samuel 16:14 ; 1 Samuel 18:10 ; 1 Samuel 19:9 ). Nor ought we to be surprised at this, for the problem is one which was sure to present itself very early to the minds of thoughtful men; while the numerous instances where the commission of a sin seemed to have been made subservient by God to the exhibiting of His power and love afforded presumptive prima facie evidence that He Himself willed the act as the minister of His glory (see the history of Joseph with the writer’s comments thereon, Genesis 45:5 ; Genesis 50:20 , Psalms 105:17 ; cf. Job 1:6-12 ; Job 2:1-7 , Hosea 2:1-23 ). It is interesting to note the advance made in speculative thought with regard to this still unsolved, and perhaps insoluble, problem, between the time of the above-mentioned historian and that of the later Chronicler ( 1 Chronicles 21:1 ). Here the name of Satan or ‘Adversary’ is boldly inserted as the author of the sin, a fact which reminds us of the categorical denial of the Son of Sirach, ‘He hath not commanded any man to be ungodly; and he hath not given any man licence to sin’ ( Sir 15:20 ). That the origin of sin continued to be debated and speculated upon down to a very late period is evidenced by the vehement warning of St. James against imputing to God the temptation to evil ( James 1:13 ), and by the counter assertion that God is the Author of nothing but good ( James 1:17 ).

4. The Prophets . By far the most important stage in the history of the OT doctrine of sin is that which is marked by the teaching of the Prophets. The four practically contemporary prophets of the 8th cent. are Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. The first named reveals a wide outlook on the world at large, and a recognition of the prevalence and power of sin in other nations than Israel. Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab, as well as Judah and Israel, all come under the displeasure of the prophet Amos. Each had been guilty of cruelty and wrong to the people of Jehovah. The characteristic faults of these heathen peoples lust and tyranny of the strong over the weak had invaded Israel too. The love of money, with its attendant evils of injustice, and robbery of the poor by the wealthy, is inveighed against by both Amos and Hosea as deserving of the wrath of God (cf. Hosea 12:7 f., Amos 4:1 ; Amos 8:4 ff.). This degeneracy of the people of the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam ii. was as much in evidence in the ranks of prophets and priests as among the other ruling classes, and to it, as the cause, is assigned the downfall which so speedily followed ( Amos 3:11 ; Amos 6:1-7 ; Amos 2:7 ; Amos 9:1 ff., Hosea 4:9 ; Hosea 9:7 f., Hosea 5:1 , Micah 3:5 ; Micah 3:11 etc.). Both Isaiah and Micah mourn over the same moral deciension ( Isaiah 5:8 ; Isaiah 1:18 f., Micah 2:2 etc.), and it may be said that it is owing to the preaching of these four prophets that the centre of gravity, as it were, of sin is changed, and the principles of universal justice and love, as the fundamental attributes of Jehovah’s character and rule, are established. It was the prophetic function to deepen the consciousness of sin by revealing a God of moral righteousness to a people whose peculiar relationship to Jehovah involved both immense privileges and grave responsibilities ( Amos 3:2 , Hosea 3:5 ff., Micah 3:1 ff. etc.). Terrible, however, as were the denunciations, and emphatic as were the declarations of the prophets against the vices of greed, oppression, and lust, they were no less clear in their call to repentance, and in promises of restoration and pardon ( Isaiah 1:18 f., Micah 7:18 , Hosea 6:1 , Amos 9:11 ff.). The story of Jonah of Gath-hepher is the revelation of a growing feeling that the righteous dominion of Jehovah was not, in the exercise of its moral influence, confined exclusively to Israel. The consciousness of sin and the power of repentance have now their place in the lives of nations outside the Abrahamic covenant.

Hitherto the prophetic teaching was largely confined to national sin and national repentance. It is not till the days of Jeremiah that the importance, in this respect, of the individual begins to manifest itself. The lament of Jeremiah, it is true, frequently expresses itself in terms of national infidelity ( Jeremiah 2:5-37 ; Jeremiah 8:7 ; Jeremiah 35:14-17 ; Jeremiah 31:28 ; Jeremiah 32:32 ff. etc.). At the same time an element of individualistic thought enters largely into his teaching (cf. Jeremiah 17:10 , Jeremiah 32:19 ). On its darker side he notes how universally present sin is seen to be: ‘from the least even unto the greatest,’ ‘from the prophet even unto the priest’ all are infected ( Jeremiah 8:10 , cf. Jeremiah 8:8 ). It is impossible to find a man either just or truth-loving ( Jeremiah 5:1 ); and the explanation is not far to seek, for sin is a disease which affects the individual heart, and therefore poisons the whole life of each man (cf. Jeremiah 13:7 , Jeremiah 5:23 , Jeremiah 7:24 etc.). The nature of the disease he characterizes as desperate in the awful deceit which supervenes ( Jeremiah 17:9 ). A hopeless pessimism seems at times to have pervaded the prophet’s teaching, and such of the people as were aroused by his appeals were smitten by a blank despair ( Jeremiah 10:23 , Jeremiah 2:25 , Jeremiah 18:12 , Jeremiah 13:23 etc.). As the prophet grows older, however, and gains a wider knowledge from his own bitter experiences, he discovers a way of escape from the overpowering influences of sin. As the heart is the seat of evil, it is found that the creative act of God can provide a remedy ( Jeremiah 31:33 , Jeremiah 32:39 , Jeremiah 24:7 ). A new heart straight from the hand of God, beating with new and holy impulses, is the sure, as it is the only, hope for men ( Jeremiah 32:40 ). Every individual, from the least to the greatest, in whom the Divine activity has been at work shall have the felicity of hearing the blessed sentence, ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more’ ( Jeremiah 31:34 ).

Following up and developing this tendency, Ezekiel is express in his declaration of the moral independence of each man. Repudiating, as Jeremiah did, the doctrine that the sin and moral guilt of the fathers are imputed to the children, he elaborates clearly and emphatically the truth, which to us seems axiomatic, that the soul of the father is personally independent of the soul of the son, with the terrible but inevitable corollary,’ the soul that sinneth, it shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4 ; Ezekiel 18:20 ; cf. Ezekiel 18:10-20 ). The profound truth which lies at the basis of the ancient belief in the close interaction of individual and racial guilt is, of course, valid for all time, and has been sanctified by the historical fact of the Incarnation. The life, work, and death of Christ have their value in the re-establishment of this truth, and in the re-creation, as it were, of the concurrent truth of the solidarity of the whole human race (cf. the expression ‘we are all become as one that is unclean,’ Isaiah 64:6 ).

5. Psalms . We turn now to the Psalms, and there find, as might be expected, the deepest consciousness of personal guilt on the part of the sinner. Of course, it is to be remembered that the Jewish Psalter is the product of different epochs in the national history, ranging probably from the heyday of prophetic religion to the age immediately succeeding the Captivity, if not much later. It may be said, indeed, that this volume of sacred poetry constitutes a kind of antiphonal response to the preaching of the Prophets. Confession of and repentance for sin, both personal and national, constitute the prominent features of the authors’ attitude. A deep love for God breathes through each poem, and a profound hope that at some future date Israel may once again be restored to the favour of Jehovab.

The religious instinct of the compilers displays itself in their choice of those Psalms which form a preface or introduction to each of the five sections or books constituting the entire volume, setting the music, so to speak, of each part. The First Book (Psalms 1:1-6 ; Psalms 2:1-12 ; Psalms 3:1-8 ; Psalms 4:1-8 ; Psalms 5:1-12 ; Psalms 6:1-10 ; Psalms 7:1-17 ; Psalms 8:1-9 ; Psalms 9:1-20 ; Psalms 10:1-18 ; Psalms 11:1-7 ; Psalms 12:1-8 ; Psalms 13:1-6 ; Psalms 14:1-7 ; Psalms 15:1-5 ; Psalms 16:1-11 ; Psalms 17:1-15 ; Psalms 18:1-50 ; Psalms 19:1-14 ; Psalms 20:1-9 ; Psalms 21:1-13 ; Psalms 22:1-31 ; Psalms 23:1-6 ; Psalms 24:1-10 ; Psalms 25:1-22 ; Psalms 26:1-12 ; Psalms 27:1-14 ; Psalms 28:1-9 ; Psalms 29:1-11 ; Psalms 30:1-12 ; Psalms 31:1-24 ; Psalms 32:1-11 ; Psalms 33:1-22 ; Psalms 34:1-22 ; Psalms 35:1-28 ; Psalms 36:1-12 ; Psalms 37:1-40 ; Psalms 38:1-22 ; Psalms 39:1-13 ; Psalms 40:1-17 ; Psalms 41:1-13 ) opens with a Psalm which is simply an expression of the power of sin and of the awful danger to which men are exposed by dallying with it. It is thus well fitted to be the prelude to such outbursts as occurin Psalms 6:8 f., Psalms 10:1 ff., Psalms 17:8 ff., Psalms 22:1 ff. etc. The Second Book ( Psalms 42:1-11 ; Psalms 43:1-5 ; Psalms 44:1-26 ; Psalms 45:1-17 ; Psalms 46:1-11 ; Psalms 47:1-9 ; Psalms 48:1-14 ; Psalms 49:1-20 ; Psalms 50:1-23 ; Psalms 51:1-19 ; Psalms 52:1-9 ; Psalms 53:1-6 ; Psalms 54:1-7 ; Psalms 55:1-23 ; Psalms 56:1-13 ; Psalms 57:1-11 ; Psalms 58:1-11 ; Psalms 59:1-17 ; Psalms 60:1-12 ; Psalms 61:1-8 ; Psalms 62:1-12 ; Psalms 63:1-11 ; Psalms 64:1-10 ; Psalms 65:1-13 ; Psalms 66:1-20 ; Psalms 67:1-7 ; Psalms 68:1-35 ; Psalms 69:1-36 ; Psalms 70:1-5 ; Psalms 71:1-24 ; Psalms 72:1-20 ) commences with a poem which is the language of a soul desperately longing for full communion with its God, and, in spite of an oppressive fear heightened by the mockery of sinners, triumphing in the hope that the lovingkindness of Jehovah will yet call forth praise and joy. It is in this section that we have teaching of the deepest import touching the consciousness of personal and racial guilt; and at the same time a detestation of sin accompanied by a spiritual longing after inward righteousness hard to be paralleled in the OT. Here, too, hope conquers; forgiveness and restoration are looked forward to with sublime confidence. Perhaps in 50:7 15 we have an echo of the Prophetic denunciation of legalism in its degenerate days (cf. Isaiah 1:11-15 , Jeremiah 7:21 ff., Amos 5:21 , Malachi 1:10 ). The Third Book opens with a poem ( Psalms 73:1-28 ) in which the holiness of God is opposed to the folly and pride of sinners. The difficulty attaching to the problem of the relation between sin and suffering, so dramatically discussed and worked up in the Book of Job, is here dwelt on. For its answer we are referred to the certain fact that God is the strength and refuge of all those who are pure in heart. In Psalms 90:1-17 , which opens the Fourth section of the volume, the author puts the eternal and omniscient God over against man, with his iniquities and secret sins, as they call forth His terrible but just wrath ( Psalms 90:11 ). The beauty of holiness and the confident trust that God is the ultimate refuge of all who come to Him are again and again dwelt on in the Psalms of this book (cf. Psalms 103:11 ff.). In the Fifth division. beginning with Psalms 107:1-43 , the note of praise is struck, and is kept up almost without intermission to the end. The final exaltation of Zion, corresponding to the lasting overthrow of iniquity ( Psalms 107:42 ), is proclaimed with a certainty which can express itself only in songs of loudest praise. With an insight which can only be termed inspiration. we find one of the poets co-ordinating the forgiveness of Jah and the fear of Him as cause and effect ( Psalms 130:3 f., cf. ‘The Psalms’ in The Cambridge Bible , by Kirkpatrick).

6. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes . The confidence thus expressed is all the more remarkable because of the general belief in the universality of sin and of its effects (cf. Psalms 14:2 f., Psalms 51:5 ), a belief which was shared by the authors of the Book of Job ( Job 14:4 ; Job 15:14 ff., Job 4:17 ), Proverbs ( Proverbs 20:9 ), and Ecclesiastes ( Ecclesiastes 7:20 , cf. 1 Kings 8:46 ). In the Proverbs we have what might be described as an attempt to place the moral life on an intellectual basis. The antithesis of wisdom and folly is that which marks the life of the righteous man and the sinner. Ethical maxims, the compiled results of human experience, follow each other in quick succession, but the book is devoid of the bright, warm hopefulness so characteristic of the Psalms. The sinner is left to his fate, and the wise man is he who, ordering his own life aright, leaves the fool to pursue his folly and deserve his fate.

The author of the Book of Job sets himself to solve the problem of the connexion between sin and human suffering, and though he fails, as he was bound to fail, to clear up the difficulty, he makes it evident that the one cannot always be measured in terms of the other. The conviction of his own innocence Job’s most treasured personal possession upholds his belief against the prevalent conception that sin is always punished here and now, and that righteousness is always rewarded in like manner. The end of this dramatic treatise, however, emphasizes the popular creed, though the experience of Job must have shaken its universal validity. The conception of sin is, of course, entirely ethical, but is very wide in its scope. In defending himself against the thinly veiled accusations of his friends, Job reveals his ideas of the range and depth of the ravages of sin in human life and conduct, and gives evidence of remarkable spiritual penetration ( e.g. ch. 31, see R. A. Watson’s commentary on this book in The Expositor’s Bible ). Mention may, perhaps, be usefully made here of Elihu’s contribution to the discussion, in which he intervenes by a lengthened argument to prove that suffering may he looked on not merely as punishment for sin, but also as a means of discipline , and as designed by God as a warning against sin (cf. chs 33 ff.).

II. Apocryphal Books

Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon . The intellectualism which is characteristic of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes finds a prominent place in Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. There are here two sharply defined classes of men (‘two and two, one against another,’ Sir 33:15 ), a dualistic conception which permeates all creation (cf. Sir 42:24 ). The sinner is to be dealt with unmercifully (‘help not the sinner,’ Sir 12:4 ), for no good can come from him who refuses instruction. It is possible, however, for the sinner to return unto the Lord and forsake his sins ( Sir 17:25 f.). The only way in which righteousness may be pursued is by the cultivation of wisdom and instruction, and by paying heed to the experiences of daily life ( Sir 34:9 , Sir 39:1-8 , Sir 14:20 ff.). Let reason be the guide of human action and all will be well ( Sir 37:16 , cf. Sir 32:19 ). It is possible for the educated man to acquire such a command over his inclinations that he is able of himself to make the great choice between life and death ( Sir 15:17 ), but for the fool there is little hope ( Sir 15:7 ). Looking back on the centuries of human history the writer discovers that sin has brought in its train all the great physical calamities which mark its progress ( Sir 39:28 ff.). The relation is, however, external, and is a mark of Divine vengeance and wrath against sinners (cf. Sir 40:9 f.). There is no trace of the profound conception of spiritual sympathy between the different orders of creation, characteristic of the teaching of St. Paul (cf. Romans 8:19-22 ).

The author of the Book of Wisdom displays the same fundamental thought that wisdom and sin are totally incompatible ( Wis 1:4 f.). Ignorance and folly are identified with sin ( Wis 2:21 f., Wis 4:15 , Wis 5:4 etc.). and not merely the causes of sin. The only way to attain to righteousness is by the careful, unremitting discipline of the reason (cf. Wis 2:1 , Wis 17:1 , Wis 6:15 f.). Running like a thread of gold through the whole book, however, is the conception of the immortality of righteousness and of those who cultivate wisdom ( Wis 1:15 , Wis 2:23 , Wis 3:4 , Wis 6:18 f., Wis 8:16-17 etc). In the beautiful personification of Wisdom ( Wis 6:12 to Wis 8:21 ) we find the writer not only speaking of the Spirit of God as being its Author and Diffuser, but practically identifying them with each other (cf. Wis 9:17 , Wis 12:1 , cf. 2Es 14:22 ). The universality of sin does not enter largely into his teaching (cf., however, Wis 3:12 ; Wis 12:10 ; Wis 13:1 ), and at times we feel as if he believed that some were born to be righteous and some to sin, the power of moral choice being really confined to the former (cf. Wis 8:19 ff., Wis 7:15 f.).

III. The New Testament

1. Synoptists . The practical outcome of the teaching of the OT is seen in the emphasis laid by the first of the Synoptists upon the function which it was the destiny of Jesus to discharge in connexion with sin. The angelic communication to Joseph ( Matthew 1:21 ) may, without illegitimate criticism of origins, be considered as one of those illuminating flashes of Divine revelation which obtain their interpretative value in the light of subsequent history. At any rate, this is the feature of Jesus’ work upon which the Apostles laid particular stress, in their earliest as in their latest teaching. It is true that the preparatory work of the Baptist aroused in the breasts of the multitudes who thronged to hear him an active consciousness of sin, together with the necessity for repentance and the possibility of consequent forgiveness ( Mark 1:4 ). The preaching of John was, however, necessarily lacking in one element which makes the life and work of Jesus what it pre-eminently is a new power introduced into the world, giving unto men the gift of repentance ( Acts 5:31 ; cf. Acts 11:18 ), and enabling them ‘to turn away every one from their iniquities’ (cf. Acts 3:26 ). It is significant in this connexion that the recorded teaching of Jesus bears comparatively few traces of direct abstract instruction regarding sin. At the same time, we must not forget the scathing denunciation hurled by Him at the legalistic, and worse, conceptions of sin abounding in the Rabbinical schools of His time (cf. Matthew 23:4-28 , Mark 7:9 ff.), or the positive, authoritative declarations by which He drew from the ancient laws of Sinai the essential ethical ideas therein enshrined (cf. Matthew 5:21-48 , where the teaching may be described as an intension rather than an extension of the area of sin). For Him ‘the law and the prophets’ had an abiding significance ( Matthew 7:12 ), but their regulative values needed re-adjustment. Sin, against which the Law was a deterrent, and the preaching of the Prophets a persistently solemn protest, has its domain not in the physical but in the spiritual region of man’s life (cf. Luke 11:33-44 ). It is by poisoning the life at its roots that it destroys the whole upward growth, and it is here that the language of Jesus assumes its most formidable prophetic severity. There are certain classes of sins, however, against which He uttered His most solemn warnings. Their common characteristic is that of wilfulness or deliberateness. Remarkable amongst these is that described as ‘blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’ (cf. Mark 3:29 = Luke 12:10 = Matthew 12:31 f.), which St. Mark designates ‘an eternal sin.’ Taking into consideration the circumstances in which the words were spoken, it is clear that Jesus was pointing to a condition of the soul when it loses all power to retrace its steps, when it reaches a place where even God’s forgiveness cannot follow. The sin of unreality was one to which the Pharisees were specially addicted, and to it, therefore, He drew their attention constantly ( Matthew 23:5-7 , Mark 12:38 f., Luke 20:45 f., Luke 11:43 ; cf. Matthew 6:1-16 ; Matthew 5:20 ).

Every sin is bound to exercise influence, not only on the life and character of those immediately guilty, but also on a circle outside. There is, however, a species having for its special object the dragging down of those who would otherwise be innocent. The terms of the emphatic warning against leading others astray, either by positive interference or by the force of example (cf. Mark 9:42 , Matthew 18:5 , Luke 17:2 ), remind us of the sad presage by which Jesus foreshadowed the traitor’s end ( Matthew 26:24 ). The word used to denote this sin is also employed in speaking of sin in its relation to the guilty individual. The fact that Jesus deals with both aspects at the same time shows how strongly He felt the impossibility of any sin remaining, in its working, a purely personal offence. There is always here in activity a force which may be described as centrifugal, inevitably bringing harm to those within the circle of its movement (cf. Romans 14:7 f.). Nor did Jesus hold Himself to be free from this danger of contamination (‘thou art a stumbling-block unto me,’ Matthew 16:23 ), while He points to the ideal Kingdom of the Son of Man where nothing causing men to stumble shall be allowed a place ( Matthew 13:41 ). It is interesting to remember here that St. Paul uses the same word to express the result of the preaching of ‘Christ crucified’ to the Jews ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; cf. Galatians 5:11 , Romans 9:32 f., 1 Peter 2:8 ). This was, indeed, a contingency foreseen by Jesus Himself, as will be seen in His answer to the messengers of the imprisoned Baptist ( Matthew 11:6 ). Doubtless these words were intended to convey a gentle warning to the prisoner against permitting the untoward circumstances of his life to overcome his once firm faith in the Messiahship of One whom he had publicly proclaimed as ‘the Lamb of God’ ( John 1:29 ). A direct reference to an OT example of this sin occurs in Revelation 2:14 , where the conduct of Balaam is held up to reprobation.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Jesus taught the necessity for the realization of personal guilt on the part of the sinner in order to forgiveness and justification in the sight of God (Luke 18:13 ). In the same way, it was the lack of this sense by the Pharisees, so far as they were themselves personally concerned, that constituted the great obstacle to their conversion ( John 9:41 ).

A prominent feature of Jesus’ teaching has to do not so much with active, deliberate sins as with what may be termed ‘sins of omission.’ It seems as if He wished to inculcate, by repeated emphasis, the truth that the best way to combat temptation with success is to be active in the pursuit of good. The spiritual side of this doctrine He enshrined in the form of a parable, in which He pointed out the danger to the soul arising from neglect to invoke the active agency of the Holy Spirit, even though the ‘unclean spirit’ had been exorcized and banished ‘out of the man’ (see Matthew 12:43-45 = Luke 11:24-26 ). In the discourse descriptive of the General Judgment, Jesus marks the crucial test by which men shall be tried: ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me’ ( Matthew 25:45 ). The same thought is conveyed frequently in parabolic form, as for example in the parables of the Ten Virgins ( Matthew 25:1-13 ), the Talents ( Matthew 25:14-30 ) in which is emphasized the profound lesson, ‘from him that bath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away’ (cf. Matthew 13:12 ), Dives and Lazarus ( Luke 16:19-31 ); while much of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is based on the same principle (cf. Matthew 5:38-44 ).

2. St. Paul . The presentment of the gospel message to the world outside the Jewish nation led St. Paul to review in detail the origin, cause, scope, and result of sin. Starting from his own individual experience, which was that of a sinner profoundly conscious of his position (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9 ; 1 Corinthians 9:27 , Romans 7:18 ff., 1 Timothy 1:15 ), and conscious also of the remedy inherent in Christ’s gospel ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ), he insists on the universality of the presence and power of sin, in order to establish the co-ordinate universality of the presence and power of ‘the manifested righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ ( Romans 3:21 f.; cf. the expression ‘where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly,’ Romans 5:20 ). The central feature of St. Paul’s teaching is the activity of God’s grace in forgiving, restoring, and justifying the sinner; and for the purpose of establishing the reasonableness and the necessity (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16 ) of bringing the gospel before the world, it was needful first to establish the guilt of all for whom it was intended, and to create, so to speak, in men a consciousness of moral failure and helplessness. This he does in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. Here, although he deals separately with Jews and Gentiles, he maintains the proposition that all alike are sinners ( Romans 5:12 , cf. Ephesians 2:3 ). It is true that the Jew was the recipient of the Law; and as such he occupied the position of the moral teacher of mankind. But instead of proving the means whereby a true ‘knowledge of sin’ ( Romans 3:20 ; cf. Romans 5:13 ) is gained, it became, through abuse, a hindrance rather than a help to his spiritual advancement (see Romans 2:17 ff.). And just as the Jews stultified the Divinely given Law, by the exaltation of its merely transitory elements at the expense of its essential moral ideals, so the Gentiles defied ‘the law written in their bearts, testified to by their conscience’ ( Romans 2:15 ).

This reduction of all mankind to the same level in the sight of God is further incidentally pressed by the establishment of a definite relationship between the sin of Adam and racial guilt (Romans 5:12 ; Romans 5:18 ). What precisely were St. Paul’s opinions as to this connexion it is impossible to discover. It is doubtful whether, in face of the intensely practical work in which he was engaged, he stopped to work out the problem of ‘ original sin .’ It is enough for him that ‘sin entered into the world through one man’ and that ‘through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners’ (see Sanday-Headlam, ‘Romans’ 5 in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] , p. 136 ff.).

Different interpretations have been given of the words translated ‘for that all sinned’ (Romans 5:12 ), some seeing in them an explicitstatement that the whole human race was involved generically in the sin of Adam (cf. Bengel. ad loc. , and Liddon Epistle to the Romans , p. 103). Others affirm that St. Paul is here asserting the freedom of the will, and is stating the plain proposition that all men have sinned as a matter of fact, and of their own choice. The Apostle, however, seems to have left room for a synthesis of these two ideas. It matters not whether he has done so consciously or not. As the result of Adam’s transgression sin obtained an entrance and a sphere of action in the world, and not only so, but a predisposition to sin was inherited, giving it its present power over the human will. At the same time, the simple statement all sinned,’ explanatory as it is of the universality of death, includes the element of choice and freedom. Even those whose consciousness of sin was weakened, if not obliterated, by the absence of positive or objective law, were subjected to death. Here we have the assumption of generic guilt arising directly out of St. Paul’s belief in the relation between sin and physical death, as that of cause and effect (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22 ). Not only is the connexion here mentioned insisted on, but, passing from physical death to that of which it is but a type, spiritual or moral death, he shows the awful depth to which sin has sent its roots in man’s nature ( Romans 6:21 ff., cf. Romans 6:8 ff., Romans 2:7 ff.).

Mention has been made above of the power of choice, where sin is concerned, inherent in human personality. Into the very seat of this power, however, sin has made an entrance, and has found a powerful ally in ‘the flesh’ (Romans 7:18 ). The will to resist is there, but its activity is paralyzed. Though St. Paul makes ‘ the flesh ’ or ‘the members’ of the body the seat of sin, he is far from teaching that human nature is essentially evil. The flesh may be crucified with its ‘passions and lusts’ ( Galatians 5:4 ; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27 , Romans 6:19 ), and the bodily members instead of being ‘servants to uncleanness’ may become ‘servants to righteousness unto sanctification’ (cf. art. ‘Flesh’ in Hastings’ DCG [Note: CG Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.] ). An important feature of St. Paul’s doctrine of sin consists in his exposition of the function of law in revealing and arousing the consciousness of sin. A curious expression, ‘the mind of the flesh’ ( Romans 8:7 ), emerges in this connexion, and the impossibility of its being ‘subject to the law of God’ is insisted on. ‘Apart from the law sin is dead,’ but, once the Law came, sin sprang into life, its presence and power were revealed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56 ), and by it man was confronted with his own moral weakness.

In spite of his belief in the all-pervading character and strength of sin, St. Paul’s gospel is the reverse of a gospel of despair. If, on the one hand, there is a death which connotes moral corruption and slavery to sin, on the other hand there is a death unto sin which is not only a realization of, but a participation in the death of Christ. The fact of his employing the same word and idea in senses so completely contrasted lends a marvellous force and finality to his teaching on the remedial and restorative effects of Christ’s work (cf. Romans 6:2-14 , Ephesians 2:1-10 ). A favourite idea, relative to this, is that of crucifixion. The member of Christ as such has crucified his ‘old man’ ( Romans 6:6 ), ‘the flesh with the passions and lusts thereof’ ( Galatians 5:24 ; cf. Galatians 2:20 ). This is the ultimate ideal result of the redemptive work of Christ. The experience of St. Paul forbade him to believe that the state of ‘death unto sin’ is fully realized here and now ( 1 Corinthians 9:27 , cf. Sir 37:18 ). His continuous references to the Christian life as one of warfare, in which it behoves the follower of Christ to be armed with weapons offensive and defensive, shows that his conception of the struggle against sin is that of one unceasing age-long conflict, issuing in victory for the individual, as for the race, only when the Kingdom of Christ is established in a peace that is everlasting ( Ephesians 6:11-17 , 2 Corinthians 10:4 ff; 2 Corinthians 6:7 , Romans 13:12 , 1 Timothy 1:18 ; cf. Philippians 2:25 , Philippians 1:2 etc.).

3. St. John

( a ) In order to understand St. John’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on sin, it will be useful to see his own individual doctrine as given in his Epistles . Here the mission of Christ is dwelt on as having for its objective the taking away of sins ( 1 John 3:4 ; 1 John 3:8 ; cf. John 16:11 ; John 1:29 ), and ‘abiding in him’ is dwelt on as constituting the guarantee of safety against sin ( 1 John 3:6 ; cf. John 15:4 ff.), as it also affords power to live the active fruitful life of righteousness. Further, there is a law ‘which expresses the Divine ideal of man’s constitution and growth,’ and whoever violates it, by wilfully putting himself in opposition to this law, is guilty of sin, for ‘sin is lawlessness’ ( John 3:4 ). Another aspect of this law has to do with the mutual relationship of Christians who should be bound together by a love which is the reflexion of the eternal love of God for men ( 1 John 4:7-21 ). If the law of love is neglected or broken, even in the matter of intercessory prayer for brethren who have sinned, unrighteousness is present, and &l


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sin'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/s/sin.html. 1909.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Simplicity
Next Entry
Sin, Wilderness of
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology