It’s a word that is unpopular today, but it is thoroughly biblical and accurate about human nature. This post is full of easy-to-follow word studies. A solution is offered!
The basic words are all here: sin, evil, wickedness, wrong, injustice, and so on. Sad, but true.
Let’s number the words for clarity.
It is written in Hebrew (and a little Aramaic), but don’t let that throw you. These words are explained in an easy and straightforward manner.
1.. The verb ḥaṭa’ (pronounced khah-tah) means “miss the mark” (used 240 times)
In Judg. 20:16, right before battle, seven hundred men could sling a stone and not miss. In Prov. 19:2 zeal without knowledge and having haste will make you miss the way. In Job 5:24 your tent is secure; you will take stock of your property, and you will find nothing missing.
It can also mean to sin against God (Jos. 7:11). God kept Abraham from sinning against God (Gen. 20:6). Humans can sin against another human (1 Sam. 19:4).
It can denote people causing others to sin. In Exod. 23:33 is that people can be corrupt and cause the Israelites to sin.
2.. The noun ’awen means “evil, sin, wickedness” with the connotation of “injustice, deception, falsehood, emptiness” (used 81 times) (Gen. 35:18).
3.. The noun haṭṭa’t (pronounced khaht-tat) refers both to “sin” and “the sin offering” (used 298 times, 19 times in Lev. 4, alone).
Sin can be a snare, as it was crouching at Cain’s door (Gen. 4:7). Sin can be a snare (1 Kings 12:30; cf. 13:34). In the singular it can refer to the accumulation of many sins, as a singular collective. Solomon prays for the sin of God’s people, though the committed many individual sins (1 King 8:34).
As noted, this noun refers to the sin offering. Recall that Paul said that Jesus who knew no sin was made sin for us, so that we can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:20). Jesus became both sin and the sin offering.
4.. The noun ‘awon (pronounced ah-wone) is usually translated “sin, guilt, wickedness and iniquity” (used 233 times).
It ranges from willful rebellion to unintentional sins. It has an ethical function, but it is also the general word for sin against God (Lev. 16:21-22). David prays to God to blot out or wash away his “iniquity” (Ps. 51:5, 9). In Ps. 51:5 the root of his sinfulness is his birth.
In Exod. 34:6-7, all three nouns (nos. 3, 4, 5) for sin are used.
5.. The noun pesha‘ is usually translated as “rebellion, offense, sin, transgression” (used 93 times).
It normally denotes intentional disobedience against God’s law. Amos 2:4-6 spells out Israel’s and Judah’s sins: oppress the righteous, take bribes, and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. To trespass God’s law is to rebel against him (Lev. 16:16, 21).
6.. The noun asham is a “guilt offering” (used 47 times).
The animal was used as “the penalty” to atone for sin (Lev. 5:5-6). In Is. 52:10 the Suffering Servant is our ahsam. “The Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” It is easy to see how the doctrine of Christ being our substitute and paying the penalty for our sins—penal substitution—for us.
7.. The noun ḥamas (pronounced khah-moss) mostly means “sinful violence” (used 60 times).
It means extreme corporate (group) individual wickedness against God (Gen. 49:5) or mental anguish (Ps. 35:11-12). However, in the Old Covenant, God employs people to wreak punishment through the word as judgment (Jer. 13:22). The noun is also used of general injustice in society (Is. 59:6; Jer. 6:7).
8.. The verb ra‘a‘ (pronounced rah-ah) means being or causing evil, “to be evil or afflict” (used 95 times). It describes a state of being troubled (Gen. 21:11-12) or angry (Gen. 48:17; Is. 59:15). It is used with other terms that describe various degrees of evil (Num. 16:15; Deut. 26:6; Jer. 23:14). The opposite of the verb is law keeping (Ps. 119:115). It is used in contrast to good (Is. 43:23; Jer. 10:5).
9.. The adjective or noun ra‘ (pronounced rah) is translated as “evil” (Ps. 23:4) (used 312 times).
As an adjective it can mean “bad” as in a bad report (Nun. 14:37) or a noun “purge evil from among you” (Deut. 22:24). It can also be translated as “disaster, destruction.” See, I set before you life and prosperity, death and destruction” (Deut. 30:15). It should be translated as “disaster” in 1 Kings 5:4; Ps. 140:11; Is. 3:11; 31:2). The most important verse is Is. 45:7: “I form the light and created darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster” (see also Mic. 1:12). Older translations say God created “evil,” but this is deficient.
10.. The adjective rasha‘ (related to ra‘) “describes the quality of being wicked, evil, guilty or unjust” (used 264 times). More than 70 percent of the time it is found in Job, Psalms, and Proverbs, describing wicked character and practice. It is often contrasted with ṣaddiq (righteous) (Ps. 34:21; Ps. 10:4; Ps. 36:1 (Ps. 37:20).
11.. The verb ṭame’ (pronounced tah-may) means to become “ceremoniously unclean, defiled” (used 88 times).
Contact with unclean things can bring physical impurity and the concept crosses over to moral uncleanness (Lev. 10-15). Sexual misconduct renders a person unclean (Lev. 18:24-25) and idolatry (Lev. 20:3-5; Ps. 106:38), and murder (Num. 35:33). This bad behavior defiles the Holy Land and temple because God is thought to be there (Exod. 25:8; 1 Kings 8:1-21; Is. 12:6; Ezek. 8-11; 43:1-12).
12.. The noun ṭum’a (pronounced too-ma) means “uncleanness” and “impurity” (Lev. 15:3; 25-26; 30-31) (used 87 times).
It means the general impurity of the people (Ezek. 24:11, 13; 36:17. God can cleanse them (Ezek. 36:25); cf. Zech. 13:2).
In Christ God cleanses us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:10).
13.. The adjective ṭame’ (pronounced tah-may) (87 times) means the same as the noun and verb (Lev. 11; Lev. 13-15).
In Christ, believers are cleansed by his blood (Heb. 10:13-14)
It was written in Greek, and here are the main terms that define sin and its synonyms.
1.. The verb harmatanō (pronounced hahr-mah-tahn-oh) means to “miss the mark, losing, falling short,” like an arrow that misses the bullseye or even falls to the ground and does not come near the target (used 43 times).
It describes sins against humankind and God (1 Cor. 8:12). It comes from our sin nature (Rom. 5:12; 1 John 1:10). Once salvation enters the heart, no one continues to sin as a habit (1 John 3:6; cf. 3:9; 5:18).
2.. The noun harmatia (pronounced hahr-mah-tee-ah) usually means the “transgression of the law.” It is used 173 times in the New Testament, 64 times in Paul’s writing, 48 times in Romans, 37 times in John’s writings, and 27 times in Hebrews.
1 John 3:4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law, for sin is lawlessness.” Sin entered the world through one man (Rom. 5:12-13). The good news is that sins can be forgiven. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Forgiveness comes only through the sacrifice and atoning blood of Christ (Matt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; Acts 4:12). John the Baptist call out to the crowd, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
3.. The noun parabasis (pronounced pah-rah-bah-seess) means “transgression” (used 7 times).
Often the prefix para can mean “contrary or against,” and the stem basis means “going” in some contexts. It means crossing the line or going across the frontier, and spiritually it means breaking the law of God (Rom. 2:23; 5:14; Gal. 3:19). Is there transgression when there is no law? Apparently not (Rom. 4:15; see Heb. 2:2).
4.. The noun paraptōma (pronounced pah-rah-ptoh-ma) means “trespass, sin, transgression” (used 19 times).
The stem ptō means “a falling” or “calamity” (Matt. 7:27; Luke 2:34) and the ma– suffix means “the result of.” But the prefix and the stem together mean “crossing over” the line or “overstepping” the line (Mark 14:12; 24:28; Mark 6:29; 15:45; Rev. 11:8-9).
5.. The noun anomia (pronounced ah-noh-mee-ah) means “lawlessness, a violation of the law” (used 15 times), and the adjective anomos means the same (used 9 times). Both mean “the absence of law” or “no law” because the prefix –a– means “no” or “not,” and the stem nom– means “law.”
The noun is opposite of righteousness, which is the result of law keeping (2 Cor. 6:15; 2 Pet. 2:8). God hates lawlessness (Heb. 1:9), because when we break his law we get hurt, and he loves us, to protect us. If it were not for God’s grace, lawlessness would increase (Rom. 6:19; Matt. 23:28). In 1 Cor. 9:21 Paul uses the adjective 4 times in referring to Gentiles, to whom God has not revealed the law; they live without the law of God. But when they got saved, he did not insist they keep the ritual aspects of the law of Moses, but the moral law in the Old Testament is transferred in to the New Covenant.
6.. The noun adikia (ah-dee-kee-ah) means “unrighteousness” and “iniquity” and “unjust” (used 25 times).
It can be translated as “evil, wickedness, dishonest, worldly, sin, wrong.” It is the opposite of God’s law and people keeping it (Luke 16:8-9; Acts 8:23; 2 Cor. 2:12:13; Rom. 1:18).
7.. The adjective adikos (pronounced ah-dee-lohss) is usually translated as “unjust” or “unrighteousness” (used 12 times).
In some context is can mean dishonest or untrustworthy (Luke 16:10-11), evildoer (Luke 18:11) or wicked (1 Cor. 6:9). It opposes God’s law or human moral law, but God is always just and righteous (Rom. 3:5; Heb. 6:10).
8.. The noun kakia (pronounced kah-kee-ah) means “evil, malice” (used 11 times).
It can break or destroy fellowship (Rom. 1:28-29; Tit. 3:3). Christians are to put off kakia, like dirty clothing (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:1).
9.. The adjective kakos (pronounced kah-kohss) means “evil, bad, wicked” (used 50 times).
In the NT, good and evil are opposites, but not equals. Since God cannot be tempted by evil, he is not the source of it (Jas. 1:13). Moral evil is what humans do (Matt. 21:41; 24:48; Phil. 3:2; Rev. 2:2). It applies to human attributes, emotions, deeds (John 18:23, 30; Rom. 1:30; 3:8; 7:19, 21; 13:4; 14:20; 1619; 1 Cor. 13:5; 2 Cor. 13:7; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9, 12). Jesus says the heart is the seat of evil (Mark 7:21).
Objects or events are said to evil in a destructive sense (Luke 16:25; Acts 16:28; 28:5; Tit. 1:12; Rev. 16:2). The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). The tongue is credited with being evil (Jas. 3:8)
10.. The adverb kakōs (pronounced kah-kohss) (used 16 times) can mean physical illness (“the sick”) or moral harm (“wrong, wicked”) (Matt. 4:24; cf. 8:16; 14:35; 15:15:22; 17:15; Mark 1:32, 34; 6:5). It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31).
11.. The adjective and noun ponēros (pronounced poh-nay-rohs) means “bad, evil, wicked” (used 78 times).
It can be used of sickness or pain (Matt. 6:3; Rev. 16:2). But it is mostly used of moral evil (Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29) God “causes” the sun to rise on the good or evil (Matt. 5:45) and being kind to the wicked (Luke 6:35). Thoughts and works can be evil (Matt. 15:19; Col. 1:21; 2 Tim. 4:18). When used as a noun, it refers to evildoers (Matt. 5:39, 45) and to the evil one who is the devil (Matt. 6:13; Matt. 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 1 John 5:18). An evil man brings out of his heart what is evil (Luke 6:45). We are supposed to hate what is evil (Rom. 12:9).
10.. The noun bia (bee-ah) means “violence and force” (used 3 times). The high Jewish court does not want to use violence against the apostles (Acts 5:26). A violent mob attempted to kill Paul (Acts 21:35). A violent storm can break out (Acts 27:41).
12.. The verb biazo (pronounced bee-ah-zoh) means to use violence (used only 2 times).
It is how the kingdom of God advances forcefully, or how people enter it (Matt. 11:12; Luke 16:16). Both passages reveal a wisdom teacher’s shocking use of imagery popular in society at the time. It speaks favorably of spiritual warriors who storm the kingdom forcibly. These warriors were actively following Jesus. Therefore, the verb should not be used in a post about sin!
13.. The noun akatharsia (pronounced ah-kahr-thahr-see-ah) means “unclean” or “dirty” (used 10 times). The a– prefix means “no” or “not,” and it is attached to “clean.”
It is used only once of physical uncleanness in which a tomb is filled with every unclean thing (Matt. 23:27). All other times it is used morally, a state of moral corruption (2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5).
14.. The adjective akathartos (pronounced ah-kah-thar-tohss) also means unholy or impure, unclean, defiled (used 32 times).
It can be paired with “common” (Acts 10:14, 28; 11:8). In Acts 10:14 and Actd 11:8 Peter says he has never eaten ritually “unclean” food. Don’t touch the unclean thing (2 Cor. 6:17). Uncleanness is connected to fornication (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 17:4). Those afflicted with demons can be unclean, because the demon itself is unclean (Matt. 10:1; 12:43; Mark 1:23, 26; 3:11, 30: 5:2, 8, 13; 6:7: 7:25; 9:25).
15.. The noun phthora (pronounced f’-thoh-rah) means “corruption, destruction, perish, depravity” (used 9 times).
In 2 Pet. 1:4 we need to escape from the corruption of the world that is caused by our evil desires. And people are slaves to corruption or depravity (1 Pet. 2:19). The body is sown in what is perishable (1 Cor. 15:42, 50). People who please their sinful natures will reap destruction from this sin nature (Gal. 6:8).
Number of words and cognates: 28
Old Testament: 1687
New Testament: 496
Grand total: 2183
So there are 2,183 words for sin and evil (and their synonyms and cognates).
The vast, vast majority of times this quality or attribute or nature or power resides in humanity.
Only a few times does this quality or nature or attribute reside in the physical world or objects (natural world)
Sometimes it resides in the worldly system.
Clearly the moral world of humans and the natural world are connected.
The evil world system and human evil are connected. The evil world system is built on evil humans.
The solution is provided, next.
How do these definitions help me know God better?
Sin and its synonyms are used very often in the Bible, so this demonstrates how deeply these spiritual realities (not just abstract concepts) afflict humankind. People are sinful by nature and they do sinful things.
So what is the solution? Can humans approach God their own way, without regard to God’s way of getting clean and the guilt removed? Humans must follow God’s way.
In the Old Covenant, sacrifices were offered, and the animal stood in for (substituted) for the person offering it and paid the penalty for him (Lev. 1-16).
In the New Covenant, Christ stands in for the sinner and takes the penalty. He is our substitute and absorbs our punishment that comes out of God’s justice-wrath-judgment.
So the answer is to receive Christ by faith.
Pray this prayer:
“Father, I confess all my sins to you, because I am sinful by nature and by my actions. I have lied and stolen small or big things or time. I lust and am greedy for other people’s positions and money. I have committed many other sins. But now I surrender them to you. I trust that Jesus Christ cleanses me from all unrighteousness. I proclaim him to be the Lord—and my Lord. I surrender my entire life to you. Now take it and use it as you please. In Jesus’s name, amen.”
If you have prayed that prayer sincerely, you are now clean and consecrated to God. You have been transferred from light to darkness. Your old sins and addictions and habits no longer have dominion or absolute power over you (Rom. 6:14). You can begin a new life in Christ. Read the New Testament from beginning to end. Get involved in a Spirit-filled, Bible-teaching church.
At that link, look for Mounce.