As anyone that has attempted to walk a righteous path will tell you: there are many and varied ways to sin. We find that this same variety is reflected within the Hebrew language: nine different Hebrew words are rendered as 'sin' in English. That said four of those words come from one family which produce the majority of the 'sin' renderings. The New Testament has only three Greek words producing the English word 'sin'; these are correlated to the primary Hebrew word family. The aim of this paper is to detail the different words involved and attempt to summarize what the English reader should be thinking when they read the word 'sin' in their Bibles.
The Hebrew word châṭâ' (H2398) is itself rendered 'sin*' on 184 occasions and it is the root behind three other Hebrew words rendered as 'sin'. The word literally means 'to miss': it is therefore generally used of sinning although in the Piel and Hithpiel form it can mean to cleanse from sin. We do in fact find châṭâ' rendered as: cleanse(7), purify(10), committed(6), offended(4) and others.
The first and most frequent Hebrew word to be translated as 'sin' is the feminine noun chaṭṭâ'âh (H2403). It is rendered: sin(284), punishment(3) & purification(3). As a noun rather than a verb it focuses upon the offense itself or sometimes upon the habitual sinfulness of the individual.
The masculine noun chêṭ' (H2399) is also derived from chaṭṭâ'âh however it appears to focus rather more upon the public nature of the sin. Strong's states the word means a 'crime or its penalty'. The word is rendered 'sin' on 29 of the 33 occasions it occurs. It is otherwise rendered: faults, grievously, offences and punishment.
The final word rendered sin in this family is chăṭâ'âh(H2401); derived from H2399 it is another feminine noun and neither Strong's nor BDB provide any information which would distinguish it from 2403. However looking at the 8 occurrences of it in the Bible is rather instructive. The first give occurrences of it are all in the sequence gâdôl chăṭâ'âh and are rendered 'great sin'. The remaining three are in Psalm's and include David's incredible statement that man's sin may not be counted to him (Ps 32:1), the statement that the sin offering is not required (Ps 40:6) and when discussing the fate of a wicked man (Ps 109:7). I suggest therefore that what we in H2401 is the 'great sin' of man.
The above really encompass the vast bulk of the Old Testament occurrences of the word 'sin'. The following five words really define closely related subjects which the translators have occasionally rendered 'sin'.
Two of these words are themselves related. The masculine noun 'âshâm (H817) and the related feminine noun 'ashmâh (H819) speak of the guilt and guiltiness of the individual. Both are generally rendered as trespass (41 and 14 times respectively) and sin 3 and 4 times.
A common word which is related to sin but only rendered as sin on one occasion is ‛âvôn H5771. Derived from H5753 which means to crook, the word is taken to mean perversity, depravity or iniquity. The word is rendered as iniquity(121), punishment(11), fault(2) and sin once (1Ki 17:18).
A rather weaker term for sin is given by shâgâh (H7686). When appearing with the word 'sin' it is in the expression 'sin through ignorance' (Lev 4:13). This primitive root means to 'stray' or 'make a mistake'. It is variously rendered err(7), wander(3), stray(2), go(2), ravished(2), deceive(2) and sin(2).
Another marginal meaning of sin is given by pesha‛ (H6588) which is derived from pâsha‛ (H6586) which means to break away. The word literally means to revolt, rebel or transgress against some entity. By far the commonest translation is transgression(84) followed by trespass(5), sin(3) and rebellion(1).
The three Greek words rendered sin all form part of the same family. The root verb is hamartanō (G254). Strong theorizes that this is a compound of G1 and G3313 and means 'not get a share in the prize'. Rather more concretely Thayer describes the word as meaning 'not get a share in' or 'miss the mark'. Clearly the Greek hamartanō correlates to the Hebrew châṭâ'. The Bible translates hamartanō as sin(38) and trespass(3).
The noun derived from hamartanō is hamartia (G266). Strong's states that this is the sinful action (G264) abstracted out. Perhaps more accessibly Thayer lists the same definition as for G264 but then adds that this word can encompass that which was done wrong and can also be used collectively for things done wrong. It is certainly enlightening to note that the first Biblical use is in Mat 12:31 ('all manner of sin') and then Joh 1:29 ('the sin of the world') whereas the first two Biblical usages of G264 were to individuals (Mat 18:21, Joh 5:13). Hamartia appears 174 times and is rendered as 'sin' on all but one occasion when it is rendered as 'offence'.
The final word that causes 'sin' to appear in the New Testament is anamartētos (G361). It is derived from the negative particle (G1) and hamartanō. It occurs once only in John 8:7 where it is rendered: 'He that is without sin'.
I believe that the foregoing shows that the Biblical languages reflect many of the subtleties and shades of sin that we can see in our lives. However I have been struck that for all of the detail there is only really one major concept that shines through. Sin means missing the mark. Whether we focus upon the action, the agent of the action or the result of the action is irrelevant - the point is we missed the mark.
Given the above definition - the shift from Hebrew to Greek adds one vital ingredient. In Hebrew you miss the mark; in Greek you miss your share of the prize because you missed the mark. May we go forward to hit the target that the Lord has given us.