Sin (in the Bible)
SIN (IN THE BIBLE)
The concept of sin, which underwent a gradual change toward increasing clarity and refinement, can be understood in the meanings of the term in the books of the Bible. Sin will be treated as it is described in the Old Testament, and in various sections of the New Testament.
Sin in the Old Testament
Sin in the Old Testament is portrayed rather graphically and concretely without recourse to theological speculation. It will be treated under four headings, its nature, causes, effects, and in its later development in Judaism.
Nature of Sin in the Old Testament. The words used for sin have generally to do with human relations. The most commonly used root is ḥaṭṭā', meaning to miss the mark (morally, to be deceived, fall short of the goal). In sin the goal is a person, and hence it is a failing toward someone, a violation of the bond uniting persons to one another. Sin is therefore a personal failing as regards God, a failing of Him, a falling short of the mark God sets for us. The less frequent but more theological word peša’ indicates defiance toward God. It denotes a transgression, the violation of the rights of others, setting the rebellious sinner against God as it sets people one against another. It is a word reserved for Israel's sin.
Ancient Dynamistic Notion. Once Israel came to know God, sin was taken as a personal offense, rebellion or revolt against the covenant God. Yet before Israel became the people of God, it shared the attitude of its neighbors toward God and sin, regarding sin as a violation of the domain of the numinous, and it took a long time before this dynamistic concept of sin died out or was reinterpreted. This taboo-consciousness is patently present in older sections of the Old Testament. For instance, when "Oza put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it because the oxen kicked and made it lean aside … and he [God] struck him for his rashness. And he died there before the ark of God" (2 Sm 6.6–7). Thus, even though sin was considered a violation of the will of God, contact with God or what belonged to Him (holy things) was dangerous, and the notion of sin was still considered a material violation, something outside oneself, not spiritualized. The prohibition of blood meat, the distinction between clean and unclean animals, the rules for ritual purification probably stem from dynamistic backgrounds. Following upon these are the notions of immediate retribution (mentioned above), of collective guilt (Nm 16.32), of guilt for involuntary transgressions of ritual (Lv 4.3), and the notion of ḥērem —claimed exclusively for yah weh (Joshua 6.17–18). Yet as the Israelite's understanding of God grew, so did his awareness of sin as first of all "against God" [Ps 50 (51).6].
Sin as a Personal Offense against God. The word offense itself is rare in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. When it is found, however, as in the book of Job, the notion of God's transcendence is more than safeguarded: "If you sin, what injury do you do to God? Even if your offenses are many, how do you hurt him?" (Job 35.5–6). By sin man may despise or contemn the precepts of God and in a sense God Himself. It follows that the sinner acts against God but cannot do anything to God. St. Thomas wisely comments that the sinner acts against God insofar as he contemns His commandments and injures himself or another who is under God's protection.
Alongside the notion of offense against God can be considered that of saddening God within the wider context of salvation history (heilsgeschichte). The background for this seems to be the above mentioned primitive notion of sin whereby something is actually taken away from the divinity by a sinful act, whatever it be. Vestiges of this can be found in 1 Samuel 5.7–9;6.19–20; 24.7, 11, 13; 2 Samuel 1.14–16. The authentic notion of sin as an offense against God, however, cannot be drawn from these taboo-breaking narratives.
The personal character of sin as an offense against God is brought out by the sacred writer in his account of David's sin (2 Sm 11–12) and in the Judaic tradition regarding Psalm 50 (51). David shows himself ungrateful to God, despising His word, even despising God Himself (2 Sm 12.7, 9–10). David finally acknowledges: "I have sinned against the Lord" (12.13). The King thought that it was only against a man, and one who was not even an Israelite, and consequently it was not a grave sin; he did not realize that God identifies His cause with every man, in this case, that of Uria.
But despite his confession, David's punishment follows according to the lex talionis (12.14); i.e., the child is to die (see retribution). Thus sin reaches God insofar as it hurts man, whom God loves.
In God's design it was left to the prophets to inculcate the proper sense of sin, not as a simple violation of a taboo or external transgression, but rather as a personal offense against God: "… it is your sins that make him hide his face so that he will not hear you" (Is 59.2). They made the people of God aware of the personal relationship between God and them. Within the pattern of the covenant, Israel became more aware of the refusal involved in sin, its hardness of heart (Is 46.12; Ez 2.4), its ingratitude: "An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; but Israel does not know, my people has not understood" (Is 1.3).
By breaking the covenant, Israel offended against God personally, for the prophets often expressed the covenant relationship as that of a marriage between God and His people. In graphic terms the prophet Hosea's marriage to a harlot wife represented the relation of God to Israel: just as a man is offended by his wife's infidelities, so Yahweh is offended by the infidelities of Israel, who was betrothed to Him. Israel's infidelity takes the form of idolatry and oppression of the poor. Hosea (ch. 11) expresses God's love and its frustration in a most tender manner: "When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense … yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer" [Hos 11.1–2, 4; cf. Is 5; Jer 2.2; 3.1–5, 20; Is 50.1; 54.6; Ps 44 (45); Ez 16].
Notion of Sin in Primeval History. The first chapters of Genesis emphasize the spiritual degeneration of man as a result of the sin of Adam. Man was made in God's image; he lived in communion with Him. Adam's sin was essentially one of disobedience or breaking the covenant law, consciously and deliberately opposing the will of God; it was an external act of rebellion proceeding from within according to the suggestion of the serpent: "… you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gn 3.5). Doubting His infinite generosity, man defied God in striving for something above himself and thus perverted the notions of man, a creature, and of God who lacks nothing and can only give. When he lost access to the tree of life as well as his Father-son relationship, death followed as a result.
Man's sinfulness increased according to the following chapters of Genesis. His insubordinate pride set man against man, splitting the family and leading to fratricide (Gn 4.3–8), to mass murder and brutality (Gn 4.23–24). The evil was conceived as growing unbearable to God and reaching its climax in the wickedness that brought about the deluge (Gn 6.5–7). After the flood story the sacred editors used the tower of babel episode to express man's continued pride and its consequent disunity (Gn 11.1–9). Thus did primeval history present the universality of sin (see primeval age in the bible). Sin and unhappiness go together. The first sin separated man from God, aroused shame, drew punishment, multiplied pain and suffering.
Sin as a Revolt against God. Adam's act makes it clear that sin is a revolt (peša’ ). This term provides the theological depth of the Biblical notion of sin. It is a revolt against God and His covenant. It is not a mere mistake or failure since it involves willful disobedience. The verb and noun forms are also used to express rebellions against nations or transgressions against men (1 Kgs 12.19; Am 1.3). The word takes on the idea of trampling on the rights of another, going beyond the limits set for one.
Although missing in Genesis, this word appears in Exodus to denote a new quality of sin in God's people. It is a revolt, a direct attack on God, who by His covenant makes Israel His special possession, His people. The word is later reserved for Israel's sin, especially in the Prophets; e.g., "Woe to them, they have strayed from me! Ruin to them, they have sinned against me!" (Hos7.13; cf. 8.1–2); "Your first father sinned; your spokesman rebelled against me …" (Is 43.27; cf. Mi 1.5; Jer2.8; Ez 2.3; etc.). Although peša’ does not occur as frequently as other terms, e.g., ḥaṭṭā', it is the strongest word for sin and its meaning is adopted by the New Testament.
The depth of revolt is magnified by the notion of Israel as the spouse and Yahweh, the faithful husband: "… she played the harlot. And I thought, after she has done all this she will return home. But she did not return…" (Jer 3.6–7); "Return, rebel Israel, says the Lord, I will not remain angry with you…" (Jer 3.12). Thus it was the deepest meaning of the covenant that the prophets developed as opposed to sin. The covenant morality was the mind and heart responding to the will and the law of Yahweh. Eventually, with a new mind and heart the true Israelite would be able to live according to God's word, to return to God with a covenant loyalty prompted by God's covenant love and fidelity.
Causes of Sin. The Old Testament generally accuses man as the cause of sin, but other factors outside him also are indicated.
Origin of Sin within Man. The Old Testament as a whole presents evil as beginning in man himself. The OT authors did not speculate but rather traced the source of sin existentially in human life. Sin came from the corrupt heart of man: "… this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me…" (Is 29.13). From man's evil heart came all sin: "When the Lord saw … that man's every thought and all the inclination of his heart were only evil,…" (Gn 6.5). Only when God gave man a new heart would he be able to live by His statutes and carefully observe His decrees (Ex 36.26–27). For the Israelites, it was the heart, the seat of the understanding and will, that had rebelled against God. They said: "… we will follow our own devices; each one of us will behave according to the stubbornness of his evil heart!" (Jer 18.12).
Outside Influence. Gn (ch. 3) clearly states that sin came upon earth at the instigation of a superhuman power. The serpent was no mere animal; it was the incarnation of a fundamental element of disorder, the source of revolt and insubordinate pride. He enticed Eve to judge that God's command was not absolute, and thereby caused her to doubt God's word and to suspect that the command was not for man's good but for God's jealously guarded excellence [Gn 3.5; see serpent (as symbol)].
In 1 Chronicles 21.1 Satan moved David to sin: "And Satan rose up against Israel and moved David to number Israel" (but cf. 2 Sm 24.1). He also tried to make Job blaspheme God (Job 2.5–8). The Satanic origin of sin is mentioned in the Old Testament, however rarely. The latest Old Testament book, obviously commenting on Genesis 3, states it clearly: "But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world …" (Wis 2.24).
Possible Allusions to Concupiscence. Although there is no mention in the Old Testament of a state of personal sin having been inherited from Adam, the inclination to sin is evident: "Indeed in guilt was I born, and in sin my mother conceived me" [Ps 50 (51).7]. Concupiscence or tendency to evil comes with the uncleanness of birth. It is ascribed to the children of Adam and Eve. Its result is murder, attempted deception of God, revenge, polygamy, revolt, and complete apostasy from God.
A noticeable change appears in man immediately following his sin before any explicit punishment; though man and woman were naked before the sin, they felt no shame; but after the sin they were ashamed. Previously man had conversed familiarly with God; now he fled from Him (Gn 2.25 and 3.7–8).
Analysis of Sin. Beyond the account of Genesis 3, the Old Testament does not analyze sin psychologically. As mentioned above, the Old Testament writers approach sin concretely as it appeared in human life. Yet, the Old Testament certainly provides distinction between sins. Besides sins of thought, word, and deed there are sins of omission and commission, e.g., Heli's sin by not correcting his sons (1 Sm 3.13). More important, however, is the distinction between serious sins, e.g., sins committed "with an uplifted hand," i.e., defiantly (Nm 15.30), and slight sins; between crimes and hidden sins, i.e., those done with full deliberation in open revolt against God and those incurred by human weakness and inadvertence. Some of the more serious sins were: idolatry (Ex 22.19), magic (Ex 22.17), divination (Lv 19.26; etc.), and blasphemy (Lv 24.11–16). Some sins punishable by death were: murder (Ex 21.12–14), striking or cursing parents (21.15, 17), kidnapping (Ex 21.16), adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (Lv 20.10–16). Other sins, serious though not punishable by death, were: stealing (Ex 21.37–22.3), slandering one's wife (Dt 22.13–19), seducing a virgin (Ex 22.15–16), etc. Sins of youth were considered lesser sins because of inexperience [Job 13.26; Ps 24 (25).7].
Effects of Sin. Sin left its mark on the sinner, on nature itself, and on all men universally.
Guilt. As a result of revolt against God, a sense of guilt arose. The Old Testament generally did not distinguish between sin and resultant guilt. The most frequent term for expressing guilt was ‘āwōn denoting all the disorder, deviation, and falseness that sin involves. Its most common note is the burden whose weight bears down on the sinner. Another word ’āšām (to be guilty) could also mean guilt offering. In Leviticus and Numbers it refers to becoming guilty as a result of cultic transgressions and reflects the dynamistic background of sin. In some places the root conveys the notion of moral guilt (Prv 30.10; Gn 26.10; Jer 2.3; 51.5; etc.).
Evil Effect on Creation. Creation manifests God's power and wisdom (Is 40.12; Job 28.23–27; 38–39); His majesty shines through His creation [Ps 8; 18 (19).1–7; 103 (104)]. Yet after Adam's sin the ground was corrupted because of man:
Cursed be the ground because of you; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life; Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, Since out of it you were taken; for dust you are and unto dust you shall return (Gn 3.17–19).
What was intended for man's good and happiness now became his chastisement. Calamities involving creation itself followed man's sin: the Deluge, the plagues of Egypt, and the curses on unfaithful Israel (Dt 28.15–46). In the end nature would undergo total transformation and renewal (Is 11.6–9; 65.17–25; 66.22).
Universality of Sin. The Hebrew tradition was firm: all men were considered sinners. Although just and wicked men were always distinguished, the universality of sin was the cause of the Flood (Gn 6.5–8), and man's heart was inclined to evil from his youth (Gn 8.21). The prophets considered the nation as a whole sinful, evil, laden with wickedness (Is 1.4; Ez 2.5; Mi 7.2; Jer 5.1). The psalmists and sages proclaimed this universality: "All alike have gone astray; they have become perverse; there is no one who does good, not even one" [Ps 13 (14).3]; "… yet there is no man on earth so just as to do good and never sin" (Ecc 7.20). The wisdom writers especially emphasized the universality of sin. The antithesis of the just and the wicked occurred frequently in their works (Prv 11.21; 21.29; etc.). Job, although his innocence was necessary to establish the author's point, realized that he could not be sure of his sinlessness (Job 9.21). In fact, the whole of the Old Testament is a massive denunciation of sin as an offense against God.
In Judaism. In judaism the Law was especially important in determining the notion of sin. Every transgression of the Law was a sin, a rebellion against God's will. There was some effort, however, to maintain the Old Testament distinction of sinning defiantly and sinning through ignorance. Since the 6th century b.c., because of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the tendency was to put the burden of guilt on the individual as well as on the community. Generally Judaism considered sin as universal and coextensive with mankind having had its origin in the sin of Adam and Eve. Sin was a controlling power over the world. By observing the Law man could overcome the inclination to sin. Following upon sin was punishment including sickness, death, and eternal damnation. Repentance and return to God, however, was always possible because of God's mercy.
Sin in the New Testament
The most prominent word for sin in the New Testament is ἁμαρτία, which renders ḥaṭṭā' in the Septuagint, indicating deviation from the good. In the classical authors it indicated "missing of a target." It could refer to wrong done to man, but above all it expressed sin against God. Ἀμαρτία itself referred to a single act, a characteristic of human nature, or a personal power. In the Synoptics and Acts this word is almost always used as the object of forgiveness, more often in the plural. John and Paul employed the plural especially in formulas referring to remission of sins and to Christ's death for sins. The singular often indicates the sinful state of the world (John) or the power of sin (Paul).
A related term is ἀνομία, meaning lawlessness, iniquity, or a lawless deed. The term usually indicates a state of hostility toward God and His salvific revelation, and reveals the depth of sin. In this sense the one who sins rejects his Christian vocation and communion with God and submits to the devil's domination.
In the Synoptics. Every vestige of the taboo notion of sin has vanished together with the legalistic and impersonal notion (Mk 7.1–23; cf. Mt 15.1–20).
In Matthew 7.23, 13.41, and 24.12 the word ἀνομία (iniquity) is used in an eschatological context: "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!" Christ refers to the Pharisees as full of iniquity (Mt 23.28). Sin is usually, however, presented in the context of forgiveness. In the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15.11–32) the sin consisted in the son's leaving his father to enjoy a life of debauchery. The offense was a desertion of the father along with a squandering of the father's wealth in loose living. In forgiving, the father showed mostly his joy at his son's return and never even mentioned the injuries he suffered. The son recognized his sin as an offense against heaven and his father whereby he destroyed his own sonship. The miserable servitude he suffered was the natural consequence of his sin. His father recognized that by his return the son has passed from death to life. Sin then was slavery and death as well as an offense against God.
Christ's life and mission destroyed Satan's reign of slavery and death and replaced it with freedom and life in the Father's house. Following His victory over the devil in the desert, Jesus drove out devils from the possessed, cured ills caused by unclean spirits, and restored the health of a paralytic to prove He had the power to forgive sins (Mt 9.2–8). Sin then was considered as the source of all these ills of mankind.
In the Pauline Epistles. Paul usually referred to sin as something internal and stable in man. Except in certain formulas, ἁμαρτία does not usually signify an act of sin, but almost a personal force in man that acts through his body. It entered into the world with Adam's sin and exercised its deadly work by means of the Law. Thus in Paul sin is similar to what iniquity means in 1 John 3.4. Paul also used iniquity in the Johannine sense in the phrase, "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thes 2.7). Sin then was not just an act of disobedience to God's will and law; it was open revolt against Him, the result of which was a state that was inimical to God and would lead to death. For the act of sin, other terms were generally used, literally signifying transgression or overstepping.
In Romans (ch. 5) Paul showed that sin permeates the whole human race through death, but its power is not equal to Christ's grace and justice: "For if by reason of the one man's offense death reigned through the one man, much more will they who receive the abundance of the grace and of the gift of justice reign in life through the one Jesus Christ…" (5.17). By being baptized into Christ's death and Resurrection man is freed from sin and begins to live by Christ's life. "For we were buried with him by means of Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has risen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" (6.4). Thus through Baptism the Christian is conformed to Christ so that after Baptism the "old man" and the "body of sin" cease to be the instruments of sin. Now the Christian has a new "mode of being," a new "mode of acting." He is no longer in the service of sin; the Holy Spirit is present in him. The new man is inspired, motivated by the Spirit to fight against the flesh; he passes from the carnal state to a spiritual state. The opposition between the flesh and spirit indicates the nature of sin, for sinful flesh is thus described as God's enemy while the spirit is God's gift. Sin, then, is a personal force by which man is opposed to God, and sinful deeds are its works.
These principles concerning the nature of sin are concretized in Romans 1.18–3.20, 23, where Paul speaks of the sin of all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. The Gentile refuses to acknowledge God as the author of all good. Hence he no longer cares to depend on God, the invisible source of all visible things; he turns away from Him, excites His wrath, and is delivered by Him to all kinds of sinful passions. And the Jew is no better; although he knows God and His Law, he does not honor Him by keeping it. In fact, because of the Law, he becomes more conscious of sin and guilt, and should be more conscious of his need for justification, whereas he is not. Paul sums up his doctrine on the role of sin in the mystery of salvation in Romans 3.22–23: "For there is no distinction [between Jew and Greek], as all have sinned and have need of the glory of God" (cf. Rom 7.7–25). Even sin plays its role in God's plan: it makes man cry out in his misery, "Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom7.24).
In Johannine Writings. Although the Synoptics generally speak of sin in the plural, John speaks of it more often in the singular (13 times; three times in the plural). John's notion of sin is that of a separation from God ending in hatred of God and servitude to the devil.
By way of opposition, the nature of sin is seen in the Lord's way of destroying it. Christ takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1.29; 1 Jn 3.4–10) by cleansing with the Holy Spirit (Jn 1.33), by a rebirth from on high, from the Spirit (Jn 3.3–8; 1.12–13), by giving His disciples the freedom of the Son (Jn 8.31–36), by giving them His peace through His return to the Father by way of the Cross (Jn 14.27–31). Christ can take away sin because He is the light of the world (Jn 8.12; 12.35–36); in contrast, sinners and sin belong to the realm of darkness (Jn3.19–21; 9.3–5). According to 1 John sinners are the devil's children (3.8, 10; cf. Jn 8.38–47). Christ has come: "that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn 3.8). The Christian, born of God, does not commit sin because God's seed, Christ, abides in him. The sinner is the devil's son, the devil's slave, a murderer as he was from the beginning, he who "has not stood in the truth because there is no truth in him." When he tells a lie he speaks from his very nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8.44). Jesus, in contrast, is the truth (8.45; 14.6;1.14, 17–18) and the life (14.6; 3.14–16, 36; 5.21, 24–29;6.48–60; 11.25). He opposes the devil who brings sin and death (8.21–21; 44) and casts him out by His own death (12.31–33).
Sin is also hatred: "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, that his deeds may not be exposed" (Jn 3.20). This hatred leads the Jews to hate Christ and to have Him killed. Consequently, "now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also" (Jn 15.22–23). Thus they do the work of their father, the devil (Jn 8.41).
By counteracting sin, hatred, and the devil, Jesus gives the supreme revelation of the New Testament: that God is love (1 Jn 4.8). Jesus' one command to His disciples, then, is to love one another as He has loved them (Jn 13.34–35; 15.12–17). Whoever hates his brother is still in darkness; he is a murderer and a liar (1 Jn 2.11;3.15; 4.20).
John presents the Passion as instigated by the devil (Jn 13.2, 27; 14.30); but Christ overcomes the devil and sin: "Now is the judgment of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out" (12.31; cf. 16.7–11;14.30–31). Revelation puts it this way: "And that great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world…" (12.9). Thus Jesus in the very act of laying down His life for His sheep cries out: "It is consummated!" (Jn 19.30; 10.17–18). His peace has come to the world through the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins for all who believe (20.20–23, 29–31).
Characteristics of Sin in the New Testament. The New Testament writers generally understand sin as a concrete reality. Christ mingles with its perpetrators like a physician among the sick (Mk 2.15–17; Lk 7.34). For Jesus those who commit sin are the lost whom He seeks to find and save (Lk 19.9–10; 15.1–10); they are the dead to whom He offers life and merriment (Lk 15.22–24, 31–32). Sin is a canker of the heart and from the corrupt heart come all sorts of evil deeds: "For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit…. All these evil things come from within anddefile a man" (Mk 7.21–23). The new law goes more deeply into man to root out the hidden causes of sin (Mt5.21–48). The greatest sin is to reject the Spirit, to refuse the light (Mt 12.31–32; Jn 9.39–41). Sin, then, is a real disease that demands a radical cure and a complete change in one's way of thinking (μετάνοια, change of mind, repentance, Mk 1.15).
For Paul sin is so real that it acts as a force conditioning the world. This idea stems from Paul's profound experience described in Romans 7.13–25. There he saw that sin's only cure was the "grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Paul personifies the notion of sin and portrays its tyranny over mankind, as that of a master over his slave with death as the sinner's wages. Only Christ can destroy the effect of sin, a sting that brings death (1 Cor 15.55–57). In Baptism the Christian dies with Christ to sin and rises with Him to life (Rom 4.25); he becomes a new being (Rom 6.4), a new creation: "If then any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the former things have passed away; behold, they are made new!" (2 Cor 5.17). He is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (Rom 7.5; 8.9). The mystery of divine wisdom is that God made the sinless Christ to be "sin" so that man might become God's justice (2 Cor 5.21).
Besides tracing all sin back to Adam, the New Testament considered satan a source of sin. He tempted Christ Himself (Mt 4.3–11); he tempts Christians: "Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour" (1 Pt 5.8; cf. Eph 6.12; Jn 13.2; Acts 5.3).
The immediate cause of sin, however, is man himself: "All these evil things come from within, and defile a man" (Mk 7.23). St. Paul speaks of an inner tendency to evil expressed by the term "flesh." The flesh sets man against what good reason or the Law prescribes. It leads man to evil and to death: "For the inclination of the flesh is death, but the inclination of the spirit, life and peace" (Rom 8.6; cf. 6.19; 13.14; Gal 5.16–17, 24). Paul speaks of sinful flesh (Rom 8.3) and the body of sin (Rom 6.6); "I am carnal, sold into the power of sin" (Rom 7.14). Hence man is in sin's power as long as he has not received Christ's Spirit. All men are subject to the "power of sin" because of Adam's sin (Rom 5.19).
The flesh, then, is the internal factor for sin, while the Law is an external factor making man aware of his sinfulness. The Law cooperated with the flesh to bring man to sin consciously. Even though the Law expressed God's will, it was incapable in itself to effect salvation. When sinful flesh clashes with the Law that prohibits sin, sin abounds the more (Rom 5.20). Yet in the plan of God the Law, by its increasing of transgressions, serves His purpose; His justice and glory is proclaimed by His Son's sacrifice and all human self-glorification is destroyed: "By sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin-offering, he has condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit" (Rom 8.4).
Sin, then, is the normal human situation: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1.8). But John also says: "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin, because his [God's] seed abides in him and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 Jn 3.9). The Christian therefore cannot remain in the state of sin and continue to be God's son. His divine sonship is directly opposed to the state of lawlessness. It follows that while man is still in the world, still in the body, he must war against sin. Likeness to Christ and spiritualization come by justification, but the battle is not over; one must still put to death one's sinful inclinations (Col 3.1–5). Only in the heavenly Jerusalem will the threat of sin be no more (Rv 21.27; 22.14–15). Hence the Sacrament of Penance, having the permanent power of Christ's Blood and infinite mercy, is given for the remission of sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" (Jn 20.23). The need for a continual source of forgiveness is indicated in Luke's version of the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Lk 11.4). The Christian, once he shares in Christ's victory over sin, must still work out his salvation "with fear and trembling" and manifest God's works in him by will and performance (Phil 2.12–13).
With the coming of Jesus, God made His ultimate intervention in salvation history, and the salvation brought by Him was from sin: "… and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins" (Mt1.21); "And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins …" (Lk1.76–77); "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1.29). Since there is no sin in Him, He is its conqueror (1 Jn 3.5). Jesus overcame the world and the devil (Jn 12.31; 16.33). His birth, life, death and Resurrection were for this purpose: the conquering of sin and the giving of life: "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10.10).
Although He did not make sweeping statements concerning the universality of sin, Christ considered all men sinful. He saw sin in the hearts of the strict observers of the Law and denounced them (Mt 12.34–35; 16.4; 23.33). Even His disciples were included in this perverse generation (Lk 9.41). Christ Himself showed His solidarity with man's sinfulness in accepting baptism and the cross although He was sinless (Mt 3.13–15; 2 Cor 5.21; Rom 8.3; Gal 3.13; Heb 4.15; 7.26–27; 1 Pt 1.19; 2.21–25; 1 Jn 3.5; Is 53.6–8).
Following the pattern of the Wisdom literature, Paul clearly portrays the universality of sin: "For we have argued that Jews and Greeks are all under sin…" (Rom3.9; cf. 6.16–23; Tm 3.3). Hence all men are sinners and in need of Christ's redemption.
According to John, Christ came to take away the sin of the world (Jn 1.29). That all are subject to sin is implied in the use of the singular, "sin" of the world. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," but man's universal problem has a solution, for "If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity" (1 Jn 1.8–9).
See Also: guilt (in the bible); original sin
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 2218–32. s. j. de vries, g. a. buttrick ed., The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 4:361–76. j. hastings and j. a. selbia, eds., Dictionary of the Bible, rev. in 1 v. ed. f. c. grant and h. h. rowley (New York 1963) 916–22. g. kittel, ed., Bible Key Words (New York 1951). p. riga, Sin and Penance (Milwaukee 1962). x. lÉon-dufour, ed., Vocabulaire de theologie biblique (Paris 1962) 774–87. p. delhaye et al., Theologie du péché (Tournai 1960). s. lyonnet, De notione peccati, v.1 of De peccato et redemptione (Rome 1957–). j. guillet, Themes of the Bible, tr. a. j. lamothe (Notre Dame, Indiana 1960). j. giblet, The God of Israel: The God of the Christians, tr. k. sullivan (New York 1961) 149–63. h. rondet, The Theology of Sin, tr. r. w. hughes (Notre Dame, Indiana 1960). c.r. smith, The Bible Doctrine of Sin and the Ways of God with Sinners (London 1953). l. moraldi, Espiazione sacrificale e riti espiatori … (Analecta biblica 5; Rome 1956).