- This page is about sin in the context of religion. For other meanings, see Sin (disambiguation)
Sin has always been a term most usually used in a religious context, and today describes any lack of conformity to the will of God; especially, any willful disregard for the norms revealed by God is a sin. The word is from the old English synn, presumed to be from Germanic *sun(d)jō (lit: "it is true"). It is recorded in use as early as the 9th century. The most common formal definition is an infraction against religious or moral law. Colloquially, any thought, word, or act considered faulty, shameful, harmful to oneself or to others, or which alienates self from others and especially from God, can be called a sin. Through sin, guilt is incurred; and according to guilt, punishment is deserved. Compare Impiety and Crime. Atonement is a concept of justice and mercy, and "payment" for one's sins. An example is found in traditions of animal sacrifice (as found in early Judaism, for example). Atonement for one's sins thought through the agency of a Messiah became the central idea of Christian theology. Repentance describes the acknowledgement of sin as well as the feelings, thoughts, and actions which accompany efforts to alleviate the effects of having sinned.
The English word sin derives from Old English synn. The same root appears in several other Germanic languages, e.g. Old Norse synd, or German Sünde. The word may derive, ultimately, from *es-, one of the Indo-European roots that meant "to be," and is a present participle, "being." Latin, also has an old present participle of esse in the word sons, sont-, which came to mean "guilty" in Latin. The root meaning would appear to be, "it is true;" that is, "the charge has been proven." The Greek word hamartia is often translated as sin in the New Testament; it means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target".
Jewish views of sin
Judaism regards the violation of divine commandments to be a sin. Judaism uses this term to include violations of Jewish law that are not necessarily a lapse in morality. Judaism holds that all people sin at various points in their lives, and hold that God tempers justice with mercy.
The generic Hebrew word for any kind of sin is aveira. Based on verses in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism describes three levels of sin.
- Pesha or Mered - An intentional sin; an action committed in deliberate defiance of God;
- Avon - This is a sin of lust or uncontrollable emotion. It is a sin done knowingly, but not done to defy God;
- Cheit - This is an unintentional sin.
Judaism holds that no human being is perfect, and all people have sinned many times. However certain states of sin (i.e. avon or cheit) does not condemn a person to damnation; only one or two truly grievous sins lead to anything approaching some Christians' idea of hell. The Biblical and rabbinic conception of God is that of a creator who tempers justice with mercy. Based on the views of Rabbeinu Tam in the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Rosh HaShanah 17b), God is said to have thirteen attributes of mercy:
- God is merciful before someone sins, even though God knows that a person is capable of sin.
- God is merciful to a sinner even after the person has sinned.
- God represents the power to be merciful even in areas that a human would not expect or deserve.
- God is compassionate, and eases the punishment of the guilty.
- God is gracious even to those who are not deserving.
- God is slow to anger.
- God is abundant in kindness.
- God is a god of truth, thus we can count on God's promises to forgive repentant sinners.
- God guarantees kindness to future generations, as the deeds of the righteous patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) have benefits to all their descendants.
- God forgives intentional sins if the sinner repents.
- God forgives a deliberate angering of Him if the sinner repents.
- God forgives sins that are committed in error.
- God wipes away the sins from those who repent.
As Jews are commanded in imitatio Dei, emulating God, rabbis take these attributes into account in deciding Jewish law and its contemporary application.
A classical rabbinic work, Midrash Avot de Rabbi Natan, states:
One time, when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking in Jerusalem with Rabbi Yehoshua, they arrived at where the Temple in Jerusalem now stood in ruins. "Woe to us" cried Rabbi Yehoshua, "for this house where atonement was made for Israel's sins now lies in ruins!" Answered Rabban Yochanan, "We have another, equally important source of atonement, the practice of gemilut hasadim (loving kindness), as it is stated 'I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice'".
The Babylonian Talmud teaches that "Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar both explain that as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now, one's table atones [when the poor are invited as guests]." (Tractate Berachot, 55a.)
The traditional liturgy of the Days of Awe (the High Holy Days; i.e. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) states that prayer, repentance and tzedakah (charitable actions) are how one atones for sin.
Jewish conceptions of atonement for sin ===.
Atonement for sins is discussed in the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Rituals for atonement occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem, and were performed by the Kohanim, the Israelite priests. These services included song, prayer, offerings and animal sacrifices known as the korbanot. The rites for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are prescribed in the book of Leviticus. The ritual of the scapegoat, sent into the wilderness to be claimed by Azazel, was one of these observances.
A number of animal sacrifices were prescribed in the Torah (five books of Moses) to make atonement: a sin-offering for sins, and a guilt offering for religious trespasses. The significance of animal sacrifice is not expanded on at length in the Torah, though Genesis IX:4 and Leviticus XVII suggest that blood and vitality were linked. Later Biblical prophets occasionally make statements to the effect that the hearts of the people were more important than their sacrifices.
Note that Judaism's views on sin and atonement are not identical to those in the Hebrew Bible alone, but rather are based on the laws of the Bible as seen through the Jewish oral law.
Christian views of sin
Catholic doctrine distinguises between venial sin, which warrants only temporal punishment in Purgatory, and mortal sin, which warrants eternal punishment in Hell, if left unconfessed. This concept of sin is in addition to humanity's fallen condition or original sin. Catholic doctrine also sees sin as being twofold: Sin is, at once, any evil or immoral action which infracts God's law and the inevitable consequences or state of being which comes about by said action. Sin can and does alienate a person both from God and the community. Hence, the Catholic Church's insistence on reconciliation with both God and the Church itself. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox use sin both to refer to humanity's fallen condition and to refer to individual sinful acts. Neither form of Orthodoxy makes formal distinction among "grades" of sins and in many ways the Orthodox Christian view of sin is similar to the Jewish.
According to Roman Catholicism, in addition to Jesus, the Virgin Mary also lived her entire life without sin. She is believed to have gone directly to heaven after the end of her life on Earth; this doctrine is the Assumption of Mary. A belief in Mary's sinlessness is shared by many Eastern Orthodox theologians, but is not universally held and is not generally considered to be a point of dogma. In addition, the Orthodox view of the sinlessness of the Theotokos is not quite of the same nature as that held by Roman Catholics, since Immaculate Conception is not an Orthodox doctrine.
Original sin - Most denominations of Christianity interpret the Garden of Eden story in Genesis in terms of the fall of man. Adam and Eve's disobedience was the first sin ever committed, and their original sin (or the effects of the sin) is passed on to their descendants (or has become a part of their environment) and is a primary reason that people must be born again and gain salvation.
Eternal sin - Commonly called "unforgivable sin," is perhaps most controversial sin —whereby a Christian of sufficient spiritual maturity has become an apostate, forever denying himself a life of faith and death in salvation.
In Western Christianity, sin is often viewed as a legal infraction or contract violation, and so salvation tends to be viewed in legal terms. In Eastern Christianity, sin is more often viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and between people and God. The Greek word in the New Testament that is translated in English as "sin" is hamartia, which literally means missing the target. Consequently, salvation is viewed more in terms of reconciliation and vastly improved relationships. These two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
There also tends to be a distinction between Roman Catholic and some Protestant views of the effects of sin. Many Protestants teach that sin, including original sin, has entirely extinguished any human capacity to move in the direction of reconciliation towards God, except only by God's rescue of the sinner from his hopeless condition. Salvation is sola fide, by faith alone, and sola gratia , by grace alone, and by God's initiative alone. This view is called total depravity, and is associated with Calvinism and to some extent with Lutheranism. Methodist theology adapts the concept by stating that humans, entirely sinful and totally depraved, can only "do good" through God's prevenient grace.
Roman Catholics, by contrast, typically teach that while sin has tarnished the original goodness of humanity prior to the Fall, it has not entirely extinguished that goodness, or at least the potential for goodness. Under this view, humans can reach towards God to share in the Redemption which Jesus Christ won for them. This view is shared by some versions of Protestantism also, including Methodism; among Protestants, at least, it is known as Arminianism.
See also: Seven deadly sins
Christian views of atonement
In Christianity, atonement refers to the redemption achieved by Jesus Christ by his crucifixion and resurrection. Its centrality means that it has been the source of much discussion and some controversy throughout Christian history. Christians begin with the proposition that the death of Jesus Christ was a similar sacrifice that relieves believers of the burden of their sins. But what was the actual meaning of Christ's death? Why did He have to die? The meaning of an event of such transcendent significance to Christians is hard to capture in any one verbal formula. But several have been ventured:
Origen taught that the death of Christ was a ransom paid to Satan in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. This was opposed by theologians like St. Gregory Nazianzen, who pointed out that this would have made Satan equal to God.
- St. Irenaeus of Lyons taught that Christ recapitulated in Himself all the stages of life of sinful man, and that His perfect obedience substituted for Adam's disobedience.
- St. Athanasius of Alexandria taught that Christ came to overcome death and corruption, and to remake humanity in God's image again. See On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.
- St. Augustine said that sin was not a created thing at all, but that it was "privatio boni", a "taking away of good", and uncreation.
Saint Anselm taught that Christ's death satisfied God's offended sense of justice over the sins of humanity. Also, God rewarded Christ's obedience, which built up a storehouse of merit and a treasury of grace that believers could share by their faith in Christ. This view is known as the satisfaction theory, the merit theory, or sometimes the commercial theory. Anselm's teaching is contained in his treatise Cur Deus Homo , which means Why God Became Human. Anselm's ideas were later expanded utilizing Aristotelian philosophy into a grand theological system by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, particularly in his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, which eventually became official Roman Catholic doctrine.
Pierre Abélard held that Christ's Passion was God suffering with His creatures in order to show the greatness of His love for them.
John Calvin taught that Christ, the only sinless person, volunteered to take upon Himself the penalty for the sins that should have been visited on the rest of humanity. Calvin's view is called substitutionary punishment or sometimes "once-saved always-saved ".
Arminianism has traditionally taught what is known as "Moral Government" theology or the Governmental theory. Drawing primarily from the works of Jacobus Arminius and Hugo Grotius, the Governmental theory teaches that Christ suffered for humankind so that God could forgive humans while still maintaining divine justice. Unlike the perspectives of Anselm of Canterbury or Calvinism, this view states that Christ was not punished for humanity, for true forgiveness would not be possible if humankind's offenses were already punished. Christ's suffering was a real and meaningful substitute for the punishment humans deserve, but Christ was not punished on behalf of the human race. This view has prospered in traditional Methodism and all who follow the teachings of John Wesley, and has been detailed by, among others, 19th century Methodist theologian John Miley in his classic Atonement in Christ and 20th century Church of the Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in his Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Variations of this view have also been espoused by 18th century Puritan Jonathan Edwards and 19th century revival leader Charles Grandison Finney.
Karl Barth taught that Christ's death manifested God's love and His hatred for sin.
The several ideas of these and many more theologians can perhaps be summed up under these rubrics:
- Victory: the idea that Jesus defeated Death through his death, and gave life to those in the grave. Both following models may be understood as variations of the Victory idea:
- Participation: the idea that God's death on the cross completed his identification with humanity - God's participation in our sin and sorrow allowing our participation in his love and triumph;
Ransom: the idea that Jesus released humanity from a legal obligation to the Devil, incurred by sin. (Theories involving ransom owed to divine justice are generally classified under Substitution, below.)
Punishment: the idea that God assumed the penalty for human sins on the Cross, and volunteered punishment as the price paid to release humanity from so that the faithful might escape it;
Government: the idea that God forgives the penalty due humans for their sins, provisioned on their acceptance of that forgiveness, but that Christ suffered on the Cross in order to demonstrate the seriousness of sin;
- Example: the idea that Jesus's death was meant as a lesson in ideal submission to the will of God, and to show the path to eternal life;
- Revelation: the idea that Jesus's death was meant to reveal God's nature and to help humans know God better.
See also: Penance; Repentance; Reconciliation; Catholic sacraments
Muslim views of sin
Islam sees sin (dhanb ذنب) as anything that goes against the will of Allah. Muslims believe that God is angered by sin and punishes some sinners with the fires of Hell (jahannam), but that He is also the Merciful (ar-rahman) and the Forgiving (al-ghaffar), and forgives those who repent and serve Him:
Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur'an 39:53)
Some of the major sins are held to be legally punishable in an Islamic state (for example, murder, theft, adultery, and in some views apostasy; see sharia). Most are left to God to punish (for example, backbiting, hypocrisy, arrogance, filial disrespect, lying).
Hindu views of sin
In Hinduism, the term sin or papum is often used to describe actions that create negative karma.
Sin, in Hinduism, besides creating negative karma, is violating moral and ethical codes as in the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In fact, it is much described in the scriptures that chanting the name of Hari or Narayana or Shiva is the only way to atone for sins, prevent rebirth and attain moksha. For reference, see the famous story of Ajamila , described in a story described in the Bhagavata Purana and described in one web site source, .
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami explains in the lexicon section of his book, Dancing with Siva, that "sin is an intentional transgression of divine law and is not viewed in Hinduism as a crime against God as in Judaeo-Christian religions, but rather as 1) an act against dharma, or moral order and 2) one's own self." Furthermore, he notes that it is thought natural, if unfortunate, that young souls act wrongly, for they are living in nescience, avidya, the darkness of ignorance.
He further mentions that sin in Hinduism is an adharmic course of action which automatically brings negative consequences. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami explains that the term sin carries a double meaning, as do its Sanskrit equivalents: 1) a wrongful act, 2) the negative consequences resulting from a wrongful act. In Sanskrit the wrongful act is known by several terms, including pataka (from pat, "to fall") papa, enas, kilbisha, adharma, anrita and rina (transgress, in the sense of omission).
He comments that the residue of sin is called papa, sometimes conceived of as a sticky, astral substance which can be dissolved through penance (prayashchitta), austerity (tapas) and good deeds (sukritya). Note that papa is also accrued through unknowing or unintentional transgressions of dharma, as in the term aparadha (offense, fault, mistake).
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami further notes that in Hinduism, except for Dvaita school of Shri Madhvacharya, there are no such concepts of inherent or mortal sin, according to some theologies, which he defined as sins so grave that they can never be expiated and which cause the soul to be condemned to suffer eternally in hell.
Adapted and cited from lexicon section of his book, Dancing with Siva., with italics to indicate non-quotes.
See also: God, Religion, Karma