What is sin?

25 October 2022
Series: Bible study

What is sin?

In the English language, we have one word for sin, but in the Hebraic language (the original language of the Bible), we have six words for sin, and three deal with our motive. If we want to know the answer to our question, “what is sin?” we must first ask the question; which Hebraic word is used in the Bible?

In Hebrew, there are six words for sin. The first three speak of sin in general. 

  1. Avel
  2. Rasha
  3. Zadon

The last three words deal with why we sin (the motive for sinning).

  1. Avon
  2. Fesha
  3. Khata-ah

In Greek, these last three categories are translated like this:

  1. Anomia,
  2. Adikia
  3. Amartia

Anomia is the type of sin you do because you want to do it, even though you know it is wrong. Adikia is the type of sin you do out of hatred for God. Amartia is the type of sin you do not want to do, but you do it because of a lack of knowledge or because you are not paying enough attention. 

In 2 Timothy 2:19, we read: But God’s firm foundation stands, and has this seal: The Lord knows his own! – and: Everyone who mentions the Lord’s name must refrain from wickedness!

Here the Greek word adikia is used for wickedness, and adikia is the type of sin we commit with the intent of angering God. 

In 1 John 3:9, we read: Everyone who is born of God does not sin, because the seed of God remains in him. He cannot sin because he is born of God.

Here the Greek word amartia is used for sin and amartia is the type of sin we do out of ignorance or because we are not paying enough attention. 

The next question gives itself; if amartia is the type of sin a person born of God can not do, is John saying a Christian is supposed to be sinless? The answer is no; John is not saying a Christian is supposed to be sinless because he also uses the word poieō, which means to continue in something. So because we see John saying poieō amartia, we understand here John is speaking of someone who sins out of ignorance, becomes aware of it but refuses to change their behavior. 

In 1 John 3:4 we read: Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law, and sin is a violation of the law.

In this verse, John uses two words for sin; amartia and anomia. He also uses the word poieō.

John is saying here: if someone commits sins out of ignorance, becomes aware of it, and refuses to change their behavior, they will continually be breaking the law of God. (Anomia poieō in Greek) One who is constantly breaking the law of God is not saved because they are not doing what is right. (1 John 3:8-10)

So what is John trying to tell us here in 1 John 3:4-10?

Let us first look at what John does not say; he does not say that we are supposed to be sinless. On the other hand, he says that a saved person will still sin out of ignorance or because he is not paying enough attention to what he is doing. But when a saved person is made aware of sin, they are responsible for changing their behavior. If they do not change their ways and stop sinning, they are continually breaking God’s law and have lost their salvation.

In the same chapter, John also says a person who does what is right is righteous. The next question then becomes, what is righteousness according to John?


John writes in 1 John 3:7: My children, do not let anyone deceive you! He who does righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

In this verse, John uses the Greek word dikaiosynē, which we translate as “does righteousness,” and kathōs ekeinos dikaios where we write “just as he is righteous”.

Dikaiosynē is a verb and something we do. So John is telling us that our actions matter, and we have a responsibility to do righteousness to become righteous. The next question is, what is the righteousness we must do to become righteous? 

When John writes kathōs ekeinos dikaios in Greek, we translate it as just as he is righteous. A better translation more true to the Greek meaning is: He who does righeteousness is righteous, the way Jesus showed us what righteousness is.

So what John is telling us here is this; Jesus showed us what righteousness is in how he lived his life. If we imitate the life of Christ, we will become righteous. This is what Paul says in 1. Cor 11, imitate me as I imitate Christ. 

What, then, is sin?

Sin is then the opposite of righteousness.

What, then, is righteousness?

Jesus modeled righteousness and He showed us how to live righteous lives. 

So if we are to become righteous before God, we must choose of our own free will to imitate Jesus’ life. We will still sin because we are not attentive enough/because we do not know everything. Still, the Bible promises us that as long as we choose to stop sinning when we are aware of what we have done, we are forgiven and still righteous.

If we become righteous by living as Jesus lived his life, it is easy to see that one cannot claim that the Mosaic Law does not apply today. Why? Because Jesus loved the law, he lived by the law, and if we are to imitate his life, we have to love the law and live by the law.