What Is Sin?
In a religious context, sin is an act of transgression against divine or natural law. Sin can also be viewed as any thought or action that endangers the ideal relationship between an individual and God; or as any diversion from the perceived ideal order for human living. In Jainism, sin refers to anything that harms the possibility of the jiva (being) to attain moksha (supreme emancipation). In Islamic ethics, Muslimssee sin as anything that goes against the commands of Allah (God). Judaism regards the violation of any of the 613 commandments as a sin.
The word derives from “Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō. The stem may be related to that of Latin ‘sons, sont-is’ guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'”. The English Biblical terms translated as “sin” or “syn” from the Biblical Greek and Jewish terms sometimes originate from words in the latter languages denoting the act or state of missing the mark; the original sense of New Testament Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia “sin”, is failure, being in error, missing the mark, especially in spear throwing; Hebrew hata “sin” originates in archery and literally refers to missing the “gold” at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error. “To sin” has been defined from a Greek concordance as “to miss the mark”.
In the Bahá’í Faith, humans are considered naturally good (perfect), fundamentally spiritual beings. Human beings were created because of God’s immeasurable love. However, the Bahá’í teachings compare the human heart to a mirror, which, if turned away from the light of the sun (i.e. God), is incapable of receiving God’s love.
Buddhism believes in the principle of karma, whereby suffering is the inevitable consequence of greed, anger, and delusion (known as the Three poisons). While there is no direct Buddhist equivalent of the Abrahamic concept of sin, wrongdoing is recognized in Buddhism. The concept of Buddhist ethics is consequentialist in nature and is not based upon duty towards any deity. Karma means action, and in Buddhist context, motivation is the most important aspect of an action. Whether karma done with mind, body and/or speech is called ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depends on whether it would bring pleasant or unpleasant results to the person who does the action. One needs to purify negative karma Four Satipatthanas to free oneself from obstacles to liberation from the vicious circle of rebirth. The purification reduces suffering and in the end one reaches Nirvana, the ultimate purification by realizing selflessness or emptiness. An enlightened being is free of all the suffering and karmas, and will not be automatically born again.
In the Old Testament, some sins were punishable by death in different forms, while most sins are forgiven by burnt offerings. Christians consider the Old Covenant to be fulfilled by the Gospel.
In the New Testament the forgiveness of sin is effected through faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). Sin is forgiven when the sinner acknowledges, confesses, and repents for their sin as a part of believing in Jesus Christ. The sinner is expected to confess his sins to God as a part of an ongoing relationship, which also includes giving thanks to God. The sinful person has never before been in a favorable relationship with God. When, as a part of the process of salvation, a person is forgiven, they enter into a union with God which abides forever. In the Epistle to the Romans 6:23, it is mentioned that “the wages of sin is death”, which is commonly interpreted as, if one repents for his sins, such person will inherit salvation.
In Jewish Christianity, sin is believed to alienate the sinner from God even though He has extreme love for mankind. It has damaged and completely severed the relationship of humanity to God. That relationship can only be restored through acceptance of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as a satisfactory sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Humanity was destined for life with God when Adam disobeyed God. The Bible in John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.”
In Eastern Christianity, sin is viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and likewise between people and God. Also as in Jewish Christianity, Sin is likewise seen as the refusal to follow God’s plan and the desire to be “like God” (as stated in Genesis 3:5) and thus in direct opposition to God’s will (see the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis).
Original sin is a Western concept that states that sin entered the human world through Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden and that human beings have since lived with the consequences of this first sin.
The serpent who beguiled Eve to eat of the fruit was punished by having it and its kind being made to crawl on the ground and God set an enmity between them and Eve’s descendants (Genesis 3:14-15). Eve was punished by the pains of childbirth and the sorrow of bringing about life that would eventually age, sicken and die (Genesis 3:16). The second part of the curse about being subordinate to Adam originates from her creation from one of Adam’s ribs to be his helper (Genesis 2:18-25); the curse now clarifies that she must now obey her husband and desire only him. Adam was punished by having to work endlessly to feed himself and his family. The land would bring forth both thistles and thorns to be cleared and herbs and grain to be planted, nurtured, and harvested. The second part of the curse about his mortality is from his origin as red clay – he is from the land and he and his descendants would return to it when buried after death. When Adam’s son Cain slew his brother Abel, he introduced murder into the world (Genesis 4:8-10). For his punishment, God banished him as a fugitive, but first marked him with a sign that would protect him and his descendants from harm (Genesis 4:11-16).
One concept of sin deals with things that exist on Earth, but not in Heaven. Food, for example, while a necessary good for the (health of the temporal) body, is not of (eternal) transcendental living and therefore its excessive savoring is considered a sin. The unforgivable sin (or eternal sin) is a sin that can never be forgiven; Matthew 12:30-32 : ” 30 He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. 31 And Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.”
In Catholic Christianity sins are classified into grave sins called mortal sins and less serious sins called venial sin. Mortal sins cause one to lose salvation unless the sinner repents and venial sins require some sort of penance either on Earth or in Purgatory.
Jesus was said to have paid for the complete mass of sins past, present, and to come in future. Even inevitable sin is said to have already been cleansed.
The Lamb of God was and is God himself and is therefore sinless. In the Old Testament, Leviticus 16:21 states that ‘the laying on of hands’ was the action that the High Priest Aaron was ordered to do yearly by God to take sins of Israel’s nation onto a spotless young lamb.
In Hinduism, the term sin (pāpa in Sanskrit) is often used to describe actions that create negative Karma by violating moral and ethical codes, which automatically brings negative consequences. This is somewhat similar to Abrahamic sin in the sense that pāpa is considered a crime against the laws of God, which is known as (1) Dharma, or moral order, and (2) one’s own self, but another term aparadha is used for grave offences. The term papa cannot be taken however, in literal sense as that of a sin. This is because there is no consensus regarding the nature of ultimate reality or God in Hinduism. Only, the vedanta school being unambiguously theistic, whereas no anthropomorphic God exists in the rest five schools namely Samkhya, Nyaya Yoga, Vaishashikha, and Purva-Mimansa . The term papa however in the strictest sense refers to actions which bring about wrong/unfavourable consequences, not relating to a specific divine will in the absolute sense. To conclude, considering a lack of consensus regarding the nature of ultimate reality in Hinduism, it can be considered that papa has lesser insistence on God for it be translated as Sin, and that there is no exact equivalent to Sin in Hinduism.
In Islamic ethics, Muslims see sin as anything that goes against the commands of Allah (God), a breach of the laws and norms laid down by religion. Islamic terms for sin include dhanb and khaṭīʾa, which are synonymous and refer to intentional sins; khiṭʾ, which means simply a sin; and ithm, which is used for grave sins.
In Jainism, the word for sin is the Sanskrit word पाप (paap), which is the antithesis of पुण्य (punya) meaning merit. A jiva (a being) acquires sin based on its karma, if it hurts anyone, causes someone to hurt anyone, or commends hurting anyone by thought, speech or action. Anyone, here, refers to literally any living organism, but not limited to human beings.
No jiva can achieve moksha (ultimate emancipation) without ceasing to accumulate karma and shedding off the already accumulated karma entirely. A jiva accumulates karma if it resorts to violence, non-chastity, falsehood, stealing, and possessiveness. A jiva ceases to accumulate karma if he resorts to the golden trio of samyak gyan (right knowledge), samyak darshan (right sight) and samyak charitra (right character). A jiva begins to shed off the accumulated karma by resorting to penance, repentance, vows and by exterminating foes of lust, anger, attachment, aversion, ignorance and fallacy.
If a jiva does not give up sin, his karma will keep accumulating and no sin can be absolved without getting its fruit or repenting for it. Thus such a jiva is bound to remain in the worldly cycle of constant reincarnation, wherein it will keep taking rebirths, into any of the four broad types of living organisms, depending on the magnitude and nature of karma accumulated in previous birth(s). The four types are dev(beings of heaven, including deities), manushya (human), tiryanch (plants, animals, insects, etc.) and naarki (beings of hell).
During this cycle of getting born and dying for infinity, the jiva will have to then live the life of the organism he is and while living it, the jiva will again perform more karma. This will again lead to rebirth and again performing more karma. Thus, the cycle continues.
It is important to note that Jains believe that for complete liberation, not only the “sinful karma” but even the “meritorious karma” needs to be shed off. This means that a jiva can truly attain moksha, only if the soul is completely and absolutely pure and devoid of any accumulation. For instance, sins may cause the jiva to be reborn, inter alia, in hell and merits may cause it to be reborn in heaven. But heaven, like hell is a part of worldly cycle of reincarnation and not supreme moksha of the soul. Thus, if a person hypothetically keeps performing only and exclusively good deeds in his life, he may still not attain moksha, because he has not yet shed off previously accumulated sins through repentance and knowledge.
Jains believe that only a human jiva has the capacity and the will to attain moksha. Hence the jiva should use this extremely rare opportunity of being born as a human to walk on the path that brings him closer to moksha. In fact, Jains take the concept of avoiding sin so seriously that not only are they completely vegetarian but some devout Jains also abstain from eating underground grown food like potatoes, onions, etc. to avoid killing small organisms. Most of the Jains are also nonalcoholics and eat before sunset each day.
Mainstream Judaism regards the violation of any of the 613 commandments of the Mosaic law for Jews, or the seven Noahide laws for Gentiles as a sin. Judaism teaches that all humans are inclined to sin from birth. Sin has many classifications and degrees. Some sins are punishable with death by the court, others with death by heaven, others with lashes, and others without such punishment, but no sins with willful intent go without consequence. Unwillful violations of the mitzvot (without negligence) do not count as sins. “Sins by error” are considered as less severe sins. When the Temple yet stood in Jerusalem, people would offer sacrifices for their misdeeds. The atoning aspect of korbanot is carefully circumscribed. For the most part, korbanot only expiate such “sins by error”, that is, sins committed because a person forgot or did not know that this thing was a sin. In some circumstances, lack of knowledge is considered close to deliberate intent. No atonement is needed for violations committed under duress, and for the most part, korbanot cannot atone for a deliberate sin. In addition, korbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who suffered harm through the violation.
Judaism teaches that all willful sin has consequences. The completely righteous suffer for their sins (by humiliation, poverty, and suffering that God sends them) in this world and receive their reward in the world to come. The in-between (not completely righteous or completely wicked), suffer for and repent their sins after death and thereafter join the righteous. The very evil do not repent even at the gates of hell. Such people prosper in this world to receive their reward for any good deed, but cannot be cleansed by and hence cannot leave gehinnom, because they do not or cannot repent. This world can therefore seem unjust where the righteous suffer, while the wicked prosper. Many great thinkers have contemplated this.
In Mesopotamian mythology, Adamu (or Addamu/Admu, or Adapa) goes on trial for the “sin of casting down a divinity”. His crime is breaking the wings of the south wind.
Evil deeds fall into two categories in Shinto: amatsu tsumi, “the most pernicious crimes of all”, and kunitsu tsumi, “more commonly called misdemeanors”.
Notes and references
- “sin”. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
- “sin”. Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- ἁμαρτία, ἁμαρτάνω. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage Books: New York, 1989. p. 123.
- “Hamartia,”The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon.
Augustine eventually (after the Pelagian controversy) defined sin as a hardened heart, a loss of love for God, a disposition of the heart to depart from God because of inordinate self-love (see Augustine On Grace and Free Will in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, trans. P. Holmes, vol. 5, 30-31 [14-15]).
- Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, Soka Gakkai, “Three Poisons”: “Greed, anger, and foolishness. The fundamental evils inherent in life that give rise to human suffering.”
- Mark 1:15
- Schmaus, Michael (1975). Dogma: The Church as Sacrament. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 220,222. ISBN978-0-7425-3203-8. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Willmington, H.L. (1981). Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. p. 725. ISBN978-0-8423-8804-7.
- “Romans 6:23”. Biblehub. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
- “Original Sin”. Catholic Encyclopedia. 1 February 1911. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Hanegraaff, Hank. The Bible Answer Book pp. 18-21. ISBN0-8499-9544-2
- Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1472. The Vatican.
- “Oxford Islamic Studies Online”. Sin. Oxford University Press.
- Wensinck, A. J. (2012). “K̲h̲aṭīʾa”. In P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/2214-871X_ei1_SIM_4141.
- “The Seven Noachide Laws – Jewish Virtual Library”. Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- Rosenberg, A. J.; Rashi (1969). The Book of Genesis (Genesis 8:21 with Rashi’s commentary). New York: The Judaica Press. ISBN978-1880582084.
- “Sacrifices and Offerings (Karbanot)”. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Rabbi Michael Skobac. “Leviticus 17:11”. Jews for Judaism. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- “Reward and Punishment”. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Preston, Christine (2009). The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A Biography of L.A. Waddell. Sussex Academic Press. p. 116. ISBN9781845193157. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
They represented ‘Adamu’ as being tried before a god for the sin of casting down a divinity, a vestige of which is the ‘original sin’ which Christianity has tied up with Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
- The Essence of Shinto: The Spiritual Heart of Japan by Motohisa Yamakage
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